Where there is Hope there is life. Hope Powell's well-coached women's squad ensured qualification for the quarter-final yesterday by adding victory over a physical Cameroon team to the harder-earned 1-0 success against New Zealand. Goals by the captain Casey Stoney and then Jill Scott gave them control by half-time, which they were never in any great danger of relinquishing despite the odd loss of concentration.
Nervous at times in that opening event of the whole Games, Great Britain were much more confident and fluent here, putting together some excellent moves and showing evidence of the coach's work on the training ground.
Kim Little, one of the two Scots in the side, may have declined to sing the national anthem again, like her compatriot Ifeoma Dieke, but her performance spoke volumes, reflecting her fine form for Arsenal Ladies this season. Taken off in the opening game, she was hugely influential initially in the key position just behind the main striker Kelly Smith, then moving forward in the second half after Smith, still recovering from injury, went off. There was excellent service from Karen Carney on the right while Scott, nominally one of the defensive midfielders, regularly burst forward, safe in the knowledge that Cameroon had little to trouble the defenders behind her.
One other quality the squad has in abundance is experience. Six of them have 90 caps or more international caps and four are centurions – Stoney, Smith and the substitutes brought on yesterday, Fara Williams and Rachel Yankey.
Powell had emphasised the African side's pace. What was more evident from a 5-0 defeat by Brazil in Cameroon's opening Group E match was a fragile and argumentative defence, which soon found itself taken apart.
In the 17th minute Smith, one of the four Arsenal starters, was heavily fouled out on the left by the full-back Christine Manie, who collected her second yellow card in as many games and a suspension. Birmingham City's Carney swung the free-kick to the far post, where Stoney met it score from close range. The two defenders who had failed to cut out the cross immediately engaged in furious debate. Within five minutes there were more remonstrations, although there could be no arguing with the quality of the goal. Smith, dropping deeper, spotted the run of her club-mate Little, whose first-time back-heel set up the tall Evertonian Scott to score.
Cameroon soon removed the left-back Bebey Bayene, although Manie with her early yellow card seemed more of a liability. The substitute Bibi Medoua's first touch was to clear from Smith, whose shot had beaten the goalkeeper. Britain were dominant and remained so, threatening more goals on both sides of the interval.
Ngo Ndom saved from Little and when Smith and Carney were allowed to work a short corner without hindrance, Steph Houghton, the scorer against New Zealand last Wednesday, had her header pushed on to the post. Eight minutes from the end the Arsenal full-back was in attack again, striking a fine third goal from Little's pass.
"We expected it to be physical and it was," Powell said, "but the girls were very disciplined and I'm very pleased with the result." A more difficult test surely awaits at Wembley on Tuesday against Brazil, who qualified after making surprisingly hard work of beating New Zealand 1-0. Despite reaching the semi-final of each of the four Olympic tournaments involving women's football, the Brazilians have nothing more than two silver medals to show for it.
They play Britain at Wembley on Tuesday in a game for which 67,000 tickets have already been sold: although as Wednesday's double-header illustrated, such figures can be misleading; a crowd of 40,000 had been promised then but the official attendance was given as more than 10,000 fewer. In contrast, yesterday's figure of 31,141 looked on the high side. Talk of breaking the women's world record of 76,000 this week should therefore be treated with caution.
Great Britain (4-2-3-1): Bardsley; Scott, Stoney, Dieke, Houghton; Asante, Scott; Carney, Little, Aluko; Smith.
Cameroon (4-2-3-1): Ngo Ndom; Meffometou, Manie, Ejangue, Beyene; Yango, Bella; Onguene, Zouga, Iven; Ngongo Mani.
Referee Hong Eun Ah (Kor).
Attendance 31,141.Reuse content