Monday 23 October 2017

Women lead the big kick-off and a bit of history

First elevens

Women lead the big kick-off and a bit of history

Roy Hay

The games of the 30th Olympiad begin tomorrow when Team GB women’s team kicks off against New Zealand at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff at 4 pm British Summer Time.

The UK squad will be hot favourites to win this game and set up qualification from a group which includes Brazil and Cameroon, but New Zealand, the Oceania champions, will not be overawed.

Nine of its squad of 18 play professionally in Europe and recently they beat China and almost held the United States after leading one-nil only to conced two goals in the final five minutes.

Coach Tony Readings said, ‘What we have showed this year is that, when we are on our game, we are capable of beating anyone. We are very, very confident of making the last eight. Once we do that, we are only one more win away from playing for a medal.’

Brazil should be too strong for Cameroon, though African sides, women as well as men, are capable of causing surprising upsets.

In Coventry, Japan plays Canada in what should be a tight contest, even though Japan are the world champions at senior level.

They will be followed by Sweden versus South Africa, which the Swedes should win.

In Glasgow at Hampden Park, the United States and French women kick-off the first match of the tournament in Scotland.

US coach Pia Sundhage is under pressure to see that her charges win the tournament and even took to singing to calm press nerves.

‘Have a little faith in me,’ she sang to the surprise of the media, while French coach Bruno Bini tried to tell his interrogators, ‘My dream was to play Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and San Marino, but unfortunately none of them qualified.’

France did extremely well in the recent senior world cup in Germany and might run the USA close but it would be expected that these two will qualify from a group which has two other strong teams—Colombia and North Korea.

They meet in the second game tomorrow.

A crowd of up to 40,000 may turn up for the games because that is the number of tickets distributed, but only 5,000 were sold and the rest were given away to schoolchildren and others.

When the men’s tournament begins on Thursday with a cracker between Spain and Japan a similar crowd is expected because the proportion of sales and giveaways is reversed.

I did my reconnaissance of the Hampden facilities today, reminding myself of many games seen at the stadium over the years and trying to assess how best to get to and from the venue.

The security practised on me putting me through scanners and searches but once through the force field I found an old friend in Andy Mitchell the former media head for the Scottish Football Association now carrying out the same role for the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG).

Along with a bunch of young, keen and knowledgeable volunteers he had the support services ready and a copy of his latest book which he had promised to have waiting for me on arrival.

It is a superb account of the people who conceived of and organised the very first football internationals between Scotland and England in the 1870s.

I invited him to come to Australia in 2015 when we host the Asian Championship of Nations, adding that there would be cricket, tennis and motor racing as well as football going on around that time.

I think he might bite.

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