It was a conversation that lasted just a few seconds, but ended up tipping the balance of Great Britain’s opening game of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in the hosts’ favour. Up against New Zealand in Cardiff, Team GB had been awarded a free-kick outside the box 18 minutes into the second period.
Up stepped No10 Kelly Smith, one of the squad’s biggest names, to grasp the ball, only for English left-back Stephanie Houghton, who had seen a fine free-kick saved by the Kiwis’ keeper Jenny Bindon in the first half, to successfully persuade Smith to let her have another go.
“Fortunately she said yes,” a clearly delighted Houghton told FIFA.com shortly after the match, which ended 1-0 to Great Britain thanks to her goal from that very set-piece. “To be honest, the position might even have suited Kelly better, as she’s left-footed, but I’d already hit a free-kick over the wall and on target in the first half and I was confident I could catch the keeper out this time. And it worked.”
Given it was the winning goal in the Great Britain team’s first ever match at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, Houghton’s effort has secured her and her colleagues a place in the history books. What is more, the goal also provided a much-needed happy ending to the defender’s gruelling personal saga, with the 24-year-old having already endured more dramatic setbacks than most suffer in their entire career.
Back on the big stage
Let us turn back the clock to shortly before the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007™. In training with the England senior squad and hoping to become the youngest player to appear at that edition of the global finals, Houghton suffered a fall during a training session and broke her leg. As if that was not enough, two years on, shortly before the UEFA Women’s EURO 2009, Houghton ruptured her cruciate knee ligament, leading to another eight months on the sidelines.
“She’s had every bit of bad luck a person could have when it comes to injuries,” said Team GB captain Casey Stoney to FIFA.com. “And, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t surprised to see her score a goal like that. I see her do it all the time in training - it’s a tremendous weapon for us.”
Now back to 100 per cent fitness and with a starting place in the Great Britain side, Houghton could barely have picked a more fitting moment to draw a line under all her misfortunes. “The fact that it’s an Olympic Games makes a difference,” admitted the woman of the moment.
“And not just that: it was the opening game, for a Great British team, on home soil, close to my family," she concluded. "I don’t think it’s possible to have much more of a special occasion than this. This is why I play football: to experience moments like this. When you score a goal like that, suddenly everything flashes through your mind and you really feel how all that physio and all those rehabilitation sessions were worth it.”