Having coached a national record of 150 internationals, Hope Powell has led her England side out on the biggest stages in women’s football - except one. At the Great Britain reins, the experienced tactician will tackle her first Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, with London 2012 featuring the team for the first time, in its fifth edition.
With the core of the England side who lost to France on penalties in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ quarter-finals available to take part on home soil, the side will be hoping to go further 12 months on. With four players from Scotland and Northern Ireland among the party, Powell has been blessed with an additional depth to her squad, who kick off the tournament – and the sporting festivities at large – against New Zealand on Wednesday.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Powell spoke of the pride in her party at participating in the event, the momentum gained from the FIFA Women's World Cup, and keeping focused on what’s in front of them.
FIFA.com: Hope, having reached the milestone of 150 matches in charge, how does it feel to be on the brink of your, and Great Britain’s, first Olympic Games?
Hope Powell: Obviously I’m very honoured, it’s a real privilege to be the first, having never been in the Olympics before as a GB team, so that’s a real honour for me. It’s very, very different, which has been very enjoyable and somewhat refreshing, and we’re just really pleased to be part of it.
Has there been a different approach in the build-up to this tournament?
I think there has, it’s more about the whole Team GB ethos. It's not just about football, it’s not just about athletics, it’s about the whole one-team concept. The experience of kitting out was very, very different, we’ve a completely different squad, the fact we are trying to do everything as a team – especially with the guys. But we're really relishing it all. It’s very special and so far we’re just enjoying the moment.
Is there something of a special atmosphere to the Olympics?
It’s very, very different. I think in a World Cup, you are very isolated and it’s very private – there’s almost a lockdown. But in the Olympic village everybody’s open, everybody’s equal, and it’s a really nice atmosphere. For the girls and staff to experience that was great, and I think we’re just really glad to experience that and be part of it.
It’s just 12 months since England reached the quarter-finals of Germany 2011. Has there been something of a groundswell of support since then?
There always is after a major tournament. Particularly after you do OK in a competition, you seem to get more support, a greater following, and then it dies off a little and then when it comes to another tournament, it builds up again. So we’re hoping the Olympics in Great Britain will help elevate the status of women’s football and gives us a real opportunity to showcase the sport. I know it’s a cliché – leaving a long-lasting legacy, getting more girls involved – but it’s true. I think the world will see the best female players on display here and hopefully that will encourage people to support in the future.
Since Germany, you’ve only lost twice –in the Cyprus Cup – and are unbeaten in European Championship qualifiers. Does that give you additional confidence?
Don’t start jinxing us! The Cyprus Cup is more about giving the players some more exposure and some experience, so while the results are important, they aren’t the be all and end all. I think it’s when it matters in major tournaments or major qualification matches that are key, and the girls have done really well up until now.
With Kim Little and Ifeoma Dieke coming into what’s obviously a very tight-knit squad, have they settled in OK?
Don’t forget Emma Higgins and Jane Ross in the reserves! I think they’ve settled very well. I think the good thing is the girls know each other, some of them play with each other, some of them have played against each other, and they have a respect for each other. Certainly the girls that I know have been quite embracing, and I think if you ask any of those four players who have come they’d say that they are really enjoying it, everyone has been really welcoming and they’re enjoying the experience.
Have the new additions brought anything different to the side that you may have been lacking before?
I think you certainly can’t ignore the talents of Kim and Ife. If you know about women’s football you know about Kim Little - she’s a great talent. It does bring something extra and gives us more depth in the team. Ife’s a great defender one-v-one. She probably prefers a centre-half role but can play anywhere along the back. It just gives us more depth, it strengthens the squad – it’s a GB squad, it means it’s a tough decision to find a starting XI, but it’s healthy and good competition.
Over the past year you’ve lacked something of an out-and-out goalscorer (no one player scored more than three goals in EURO qualifying). Does Little bring that to the side?
I’m just happy that we’re scoring goals and winning matches, who cares who scores? I don’t care, as long as the ball is going into the back of the net I’ve got no complaints. It isn’t about one person, it’s about a squad of players, and if any one of them can put the ball into the back of net I’m more than happy.
With eight of the 12 participating teams making it through to the quarter-finals, does it give you the chance to build up speed in the group?
I think we have to hit the ground running, I think everybody in each group wants to get out of them, and you’d be foolish to assume that you have a really good chance - you never know with this game. Every match is tough so we have to hit the ground running. We want to do well and we want to progress out of the group, and hopefully if we do that, who knows?
Having reached the quarter-finals in Germany, is the semi-finals your natural target for here?
Number one [is to] get out of the group - that's got to be the priority. If you don’t achieve that your competition is over. I think we have to keep our feet on the ground. You deal with the teams who are right in front of you. Hopefully we’ll progress.
Before the World Cup you told us you aspired to turn England into the next Germany. How is that plan moving forward?
I think we’re progressing, and obviously we strive to be the best. Everybody knows about Germany, arguably the best team in Europe and I think their record proves that, so you’ve got to aim high. Our ambition is to be ‘the next Germany’, but we’ve still got some work to do. We haven’t won a tournament as England, but this is a different environment, this is about Great Britain, but we’re certainly striving to be the best we can be.