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Team GB women show their mettle in pursuit of gold
AS they prepare to go for gold, perhaps it was fitting that Great Britain's women proved their mettle against a team playing in bright yellow.
Taking on a Sweden side that were semi-finalists at last year's World Cup in their only warm-up game ahead of the Olympics, Team GB claimed a creditable draw that suggests they could be genuine medal contenders when they compete in London 2012.
Fielding North-East duo Jill Scott and Steph Houghton, they defended resolutely throughout to restrict Sweden to a handful of chances.
Their own threat at the other end was limited, something head coach Hope Powell will attempt to address ahead of Wednesday's Olympic opener against New Zealand, but given that this was the first time a Great Britain women's team had ever taken to the field in a competitive fixture, some decent foundations have been laid.
“Sweden are always up there with the best in the world,” said Scott, who played with Sunderland Women for a season before moving on to Everton. “This was our first game as Team GB and it was important that we tested ourselves against the best.
“It was important that we didn't lose, and although we know we can play better, we had chances to win it. Defensively I thought we did well, and we know there's more to come from us attacking wise.
“We've only played together for a couple of weeks, but looking forward, hopefully it will be good experience to have under our belt as we get ready for the Olympics.”
Legacy has been a key buzzword throughout the Olympic process, and for women's football, the next three weeks could be hugely significant in terms of building a profile and image that could transform the sport in this country.
With that in mind, the biggest disappointment yesterday was the banks of empty seats that greeted the British team's only warm-up fixture.
Both the Football Association and BBC must take their share of blame for that – the latter demanded a two-hour gap between men's and women's games in order to satisfy their scheduling, and the former weakly acquiesced – but on the eve of the school holidays, it nevertheless felt like an opportunity missed.
Those that chose to turn out early witnessed a keenly-contested encounter that suggested that Team GB have nothing to fear ahead of Wednesday's game at Old Trafford, a match that effectively opens the Games.
Birmingham striker Eni Aluko was especially dangerous, playing on the right and left before finishing as an orthodox centre-forward as Powell tried out a number of different formations.
Aluko set up Great Britain's best two chances, but neither was converted as Ellen White guided a first-half effort wide of the target and substitute Rachel Yankey drilled a second-half strike against the left-hand post after outpacing the Swedish back four.
Yankey's effort was as close as either side came to a winner, although Sweden striker Caroline Seger should perhaps have done better with a 26th-minute effort that was dragged past the post after Sofia Jakobsson's low cross eluded the British defence.
And while Great Britain's two centre-halves, Casey Stoney and Ifeoma Dieke, performed impressively throughout, Sweden should perhaps have claimed a winner with seven minutes left.
Substitute Lina Nilsson delivered a deep cross from the right, and Seger shot over from the edge of the six-yard box with the goal at her mercy.
“We've already had one success because we're in the Olympics and that's fantastic,” said Powell. “The focus is to try and get out of the group, as it will be for all the teams in the competition.
“We can't take anything for granted because it's a very tough competition. The priority is to get out of the group, then we can go from there. But the success story is that there is a women's GB football team and I'm really proud of that.” GREAT BRITAIN (4-2-3-1): Bardsley 7 (Brown 46, 6); A Scott 6, Stoney 7 (Rafferty 84), DIEKE 8 (Bradley 63, 6), Houghton 7; J Scott 7, Asante 6 (F Williams 46, 5); Aluko 7, Little 6, White 5 (Yankey 46, 7); Smith 6 (Carney 63, 5).
Subs (not used): R Williams, Higgins, Susi, Ross , Clarke.
SWEDEN (4-4-2): Lindahl 7; Svensson 5 (Nilsson 46, 6), BERGLUND 8, Sembrant 7, Thunebro 6; Asllani 6 (Goransson 66, 5), Dahlkvist 6 (Almgren 59, 5), Fischer 7 (Levenstad 90), M Hammarstrom 5 (Edlund 66, 6); Seger 7, Jakobsson 6 (Moberg 82).
Subs (not used): Lundgren (gk), Segerstrom, Landstrom, K Hammarstrom.
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