Among the keen observers of the draw for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at Wembley Stadium last week was Kelly Smith, a veteran of the game in England, who had a closer view than most as she joined Brazil star Ronaldo and others in assisting with the ceremony.
The 33-year-old watched on as Great Britain were placed in Group E alongside Brazil, Cameroon and New Zealand, while intriguing fixtures involving heavyweights Japan, Sweden and USA were formed in the other two pools.
Smith, England women’s record goalscorer with 45 goals, feels that London 2012 can help continue the strong momentum currently pushing women’s football following the success of last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany.
“This is the time now for women’s football to kick on and really be a showcase to see what the women’s game is about,” the Arsenal Ladies star told FIFA.com. “The opening game at Cardiff is the event before the big ceremony so all eyes will hopefully be on that. This is definitely our time now for women’s football to be seen in the press and on TV and raise the profile of the women’s game.”
Gold medal in sight
With five of the eight quarter-finalists from Germany 2011, as well as England’s contribution to Team GB, taking part in the July/August tournament, quality is sure to be high. Smith, however, is relishing the prospect of taking on some of the world’s finest teams and believes Great Britain are good enough to claim gold.
“I’m really pleased with the draw. Brazil is just a mouth-watering prospect, playing against Marta – one of the best players in the world – at Wembley,” Smith enthused. “New Zealand are an outfit that we are a little bit familiar with, playing for England.
“We played them a couple of times before the World Cup, then drew them in the World Cup and beat them. So we know a lot about them and their style of play. And then you have Cameroon, an African team we have never played against.
“I certainly like to think we can win it. The English-based players have got a lot of big-game experience now and we’re progressing in every tournament that we play in. We beat Japan and we were the only team to beat Japan, who eventually won the World Cup last year. We’re certainly moving in the right direction and I don’t see why we can’t get out of the group and reach the final.”
Experienced coach Hope Powell, who led England to the last eight of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup where they were eliminated on penalties by France, will take charge of the Great Britain team for the Olympics.
Powell can select a squad containing players from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with an announcement expected by the end of this month. Smith admits she has “absolutely no idea” who will be picked but expects a considerable English contingent to be involved.
“I know the long list has been made into a shortlist, and I know pretty much nobody has turned it down,” she explained. “A lot of England players have experience of playing tournament football over the last five or six years, going to World Cups and European Championships.”
Race for fitness
Few have more experience than Smith herself. Her ongoing career, which began 18 years ago, has included two FIFA Women’s World Cups, 15 trophies with Arsenal, two separate spells in USA’s domestic league and more than 100 caps for England.
This year provides a first opportunity to appear at an Olympic Football Tournament, though, and it is one that Smith is excited about. She will have to prove her fitness before then, however, as a stress fracture means she is currently using crutches. But the Watford-born forward expects to be ready before the Games kick off.
“There’s certainly a chance of me playing. I’m on crutches at the minute but I hope to be off these in a week,” she concluded. “I’ve been biking and swimming to keep up my fitness so June is the time when I’ll be back playing and training with a football. So if everything goes according to plan, hopefully I’ll be fit and hopefully selected.”