David Beckham might not be playing football for Great Britain at the Olympics but he must have recognised the quality of the free-kick that won them their opening game today. Team GB start the Olympic games with a 1-0 victory over New Zealand at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, thanks to one moment of brilliance from Steph Houghton.
Nearly half-way through the second half, Britain were frustrated, having missed more than enough chances to go ahead. But Alex Scott was fouled 25 yards from goal by Amber Hearn. Houghton, one of the four Arsenal players starting for Britain, stepped up to take the kick. She curled the ball with her right foot over the wall and into the far bottom corner. Veteran New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon could get nowhere near it.
It was a well-deserved lead after more than an hour of dominant, purposeful football from Hope Powell’s team. They moved the ball quicker than New Zealand, stretching the play and created more than enough chances to take the lead. As with any host nation playing their opening game, Britain suffered from early over-enthusiasm. Even the experienced Kelly Smith passed the ball out of play within three seconds, and the first real shot was when Eniola Aluko shot wildly over from 30 yards.
But Britain soon settled into supremacy, and when Houghton forced Bindon into a scrambling save with her long-range free-kick it was a warning of what was to come. The best chances were a sequence of three Anita Asante headers at the end of the first half. First Kim Little played through Aluko, a constant left-wing danger, who crossed to Asante at the far-post, only for her header to hit the upright. Two minutes later Asante headed wide from a corner kick, and she went close again three minutes later.
Alex Scott curled a shot narrowly wide, Little could not capitalise on a good position in the box, and then Scott was denied on the overlap by Ali Riley. Scott, the cavalier right-back from Arsenal, was increasingly influential and she was fouled for the free-kick which won Britain the game.
From there New Zealand only had one very good chance to equalise. Sarah Gregorius was played through on goal and should have made it 1-1 but could only shoot straight at the advancing Britain goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. Hearn tried a chip from the edge of the box in the final minutes but Bardsley was equal to tipping it over the bar. A New Zealand player nearly added a second for Britain when Ria Percival headed narrowly past her own goal. But Britain ultimately did not need it.