When Great Britain coach Hope Powell lauds Kim Little as “a great talent”, she speaks from experience. Painful experience.
The last time the pair met, at the 2011 Cyprus Cup, Little was the inspiration behind a 2-0 victory in which she notched the opening goal. Unfortunately for Powell, she and her England side were the victims of those goalscoring efforts that day, with the Arsenal midfielder dazzling in the dark blue of her native Scotland.
Not many international coaches have the luxury of calling upon former opponents, yet that it is just what the Team GB boss has been able to do at London 2012. Little is one of two non-English players in Powell’s 18-strong squad for the forthcoming Olympics and, having started Friday’s 0-0 draw with Sweden, she is expected to play an influential role.
That should surprise no-one. This might be the 22-year-old’s first major international tournament, but she has long been considered one of women’s football’s hottest emerging talents, with her achievements for club and country remarkable for a player of such tender years. Little’s tally of 70 caps is impressive enough, but it is her record of more than a goal-a-game with Arsenal that would lead casual observers to assume that Powell’s secret weapon is a striker. The player herself is happy to put the record straight.
As she explained to FIFA.com: “Nearly all my goals come from midfield. That’s my natural position. But I’m a player who always tries to make forward runs, be positive and to create and score goals, so hopefully I’ll be able to chip in with one or two during the Olympics. I’m really looking forward to it now, and being part of a Great Britain team is special and a great honour because it’s the first ever time this has happened in women’s football.”
Participating in any Olympic Games would be momentous enough, but this one has added significance for Little. After all, while she was brought up in the tiny Aberdeenshire village of Mintlaw, it is London, Britain’s sprawling capital, that has become home to the 22-year-old since her move from Hibernian at the age of 17. “I’m very settled here now,” she said, “and I’ve seen all the work being done to get the city ready for the Olympics. It will be great to see all that coming together. It’s been building up bit by bit and it’s been exciting to think, ‘I could be a part of that’.”
And while there has, in Little’s words, “been a bit of banter” between her and the squad’s English majority, the Scot finds herself very much among friends in Team GB. After all, Arsenal players make up a third of Powell’s squad, and with her youth supplemented by the experience of Gunners colleagues such as Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey, Little sees no reason to set modest targets.
“We’re going for the ultimate,” she said. “I know that we won’t start as the favourites but we’re on home ground, we’ll have the support of the fans and we have a strong enough squad to cause anyone problems. Getting through the group is all that we’re focusing on at the moment but there’s no point in saying, ‘Getting to the semi-finals will be success’. It’s an Olympics, so you want to be up there getting a medal at the end. And with the squad we have, I don’t see any reason why it can’t be gold.”