Hege Riise has said her Team GB women’s football squad can “absolutely” win gold at the Olympics and have all the ingredients for success.
“The chemistry within the players is excellent,” said the former Olympic champion Riise, who won gold with Norway at the Sydney Games in 2000. “If we can enjoy it and not feel the pressure we will be good.”
It has been difficult to get a feel for what Riise’s Team GB will look like on the pitch because we have yet to see them play. After the cancellation of a friendly against Zambia last month, due to Covid restrictions, the team’s only game was a 3-0 defeat of New Zealand in a behind-closed-doors friendly at the Todoroki Stadium last Wednesday. That game was needed.
“I feel like we know how to play,” said Riise of what she learned from that game. “We looked like how we have tried to work in training. That was the best part. Training is one thing but seeing if you can get that on field against an opponent is important. We gained a lot from that game. Out of possession we need to be stronger, quicker. That’s why it was important. Playing a different opponent makes us better.”
Team GB get their Olympic campaign under way on Wednesday at the Sapporo Dome against Chile. Looking ahead to the match, Riise said: “I hope we see this team coming with a lot of energy and confidence. We want to attack and defend as a team. Be brave with the ball. That’s what we do in training. We want to start out in the best possible way to get the whole of Team GB going. We don’t feel we have more pressure. We want to go out and perform. We are excited to finally start. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time now.”
The England captain and Team GB co-captain Steph Houghton will lead the whole of Team GB into the Games when she walks on to pitch in Sapporo.
“It’s a massive honour first and foremost to even be a part of this squad,” she said. “It’s a special feeling to represent Team GB and being an Olympic athlete for the second time is ultimately a dream come true. To be one of the captains of this team and to lead the team out will be a proud moment for me and the rest of my family as well.”
Houghton was at a very different stage of her career at London 2012 and said it “paved the way” for the careers of herself and teammates in that squad. “We’re very fortunate to have women’s football as part of the Olympic Games and to do it not once but twice makes it even more special,” she added. “It’s a busy schedule [with the Euros played next summer and World Cup the following year] but I think as players you want to be involved in these tournaments and have the chance to win trophies and medals.
“For women’s football in our country it’s another chance to grow our game and another chance to get out there and be in the media so we know we’ve got to go and do as well as we possibly can, we’ve got to have confidence and belief and just do the things that we’ve been doing not just in this tournament but the season prior to that as well.”
To help build their relationships on the pitch the players had to think outside the box off it to come up with team bonding activities that are possible within the remit of the Covid restrictions they are operating under.
“As you guys know it’s quite strict here so for us to be able to smuggle a coffee in is quite an achievement,” said Houghton. “We had a talent show the other night, we’re trying to be inventive because obviously we’re only allowed out for training and then back to the hotel. So it’s been tough but we’ve made the most of it and, of course, it’s important we do that as well as train as hard as we can on the football pitch.”
What did the decorated centre-back do in the talent show? “I can’t disclose what I did because I did nothing, I’ve got no talent, I’m not one of those that can stand up and do something but Rachel Daly and Millie Bright won, with, I don’t know what it was, whether it was a dance or a gymnastics routine,” she said with a laugh.
They use the lighthearted stuff to also help cut across the worry about Covid outbreaks.
“We’re being really, really cautious,” said Houghton. “We’ve just got to be conscious that first and foremost it’s about trying to keep us all safe and healthy, we get tested every single day, which helps put your mind at ease but ultimately, because we have been so safe, we’ve been able to focus on football.”