IIt may be an overused phrase, but there are certainly no easy games at the Women’s Olympic Tournament. Only 12 nations compete in an event that has only been a Games since 1996, and the level is extremely high.
As Team GB do not normally play together, it was agreed in advance that a home nation would have to complete in order to qualify for Tokyo as one of the top three European teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Despite losing to Sweden in the bronze medal game, England finished last for Team GB in Japan. The level of competition that France, the 2019 World Cup host and one of the favorites, and the reigning Olympic champion Germany missed. The Netherlands qualified in the final after losing to the USA.
In that sense, coming to Japan is quite an achievement. However, should Team GB fail and win a medal, the players would see the Olympic campaign as a failure.
But after a year of delay after the postponement of the games, the mountain is even higher. The English players, who make up the majority of the British squad, have not played a single competitive match in international football since this World Cup, as they have automatically qualified as hosts for the postponed European Championship next summer. The need to rely on friendly matches became impossible as the pandemic hit and uncompetitive international matches were ruled out.
The team has an unexpected manager following the departure of Phil Neville, who was offered the role of head coach for Inter Miami’s men’s team in the US. Since the Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman was only supposed to take up the English post after the games, the FA landed on its feet. Hege Riise, the former Norwegian World, Olympic and European Championship winner, was temporarily hired as an English assistant alongside Canada’s former Olympic bronze medalist Rhian Wilkinson and will now coach Team GB in Tokyo.
If anyone understands what it takes to compete in an Olympic football tournament, it is Riise, who not only won gold in Sydney 2000 as a player for Norway, but was also assistant to the US team, which won gold in London in 2012.
Olympic soccer is an unusual animal. For men, teams under 23 compete against each other, with three over-year players allowed. The senior national teams take part in the women’s tournament. The seniority of the women’s competition is reflected in the final venues, with the women being played in the National Stadium, the main Olympic stadium in Tokyo, while the men being played in Yokohama. In each round, each game is played on the same day. Following the tournament in its entirety is a difficult task.
In addition to the strict Covid protocols, a special feature of this edition is that the four reserve players who travel with each team can be included in the 18-player squad on match days. Wiegman led the squad expansion campaign amid player stress from the pandemic. For Team GB, this means the inclusion of Manchester United striker Ella Toone, Arsenal defender Lotte Wubben-Moy, Everton goalkeeper Sandy MacIver and Chelsea winger Niamh Charles.
Gold favorites are the USA, unbeaten in 44 games and losing 3-1 in a friendly against France in January 2019. Americans are desperate for gold after being shocked on penalties against Sweden in the quarter-finals – final stage in Rio 2016.
Team GB coach Hege Riise won the Olympics both as a player for Norway in 2000 and as an assistant coach for the US in 2012. Photo: Lynne Cameron – The FA / The FA / Getty Images
The pandemic has resulted in Team GB playing one game, a closed-door friendly win against New Zealand in Kawasaki on Wednesday. England have played three times this year, losing to France and Canada and beating Northern Ireland 6-0. Wales, represented by Chelsea midfielder Sophie Ingle, also played three times in 2021 and suffered two defeats. Scotland, represented by Kim Little and Caroline Weir in the UK squad, played four times, beating Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Wales and losing to Portugal.
Perhaps an advantage for Team GB is that the entire setup is unknown; the manager, the team, the formation and with three captains alternating (Little, Ingle and England’s Steph Houghton) the lead on the field – all unknown.
However, over the same period the USA have played 12 times, won 11 and drawn once (against Sweden, which they meet in Group G). With the NWSL season traditionally starting in April / May and ending in October, the winter and spring months give the national team time to focus on building relationships on the ground and putting together an enviable calendar of friendly matches to admit a competitive squad Refine titles come out in the summer.
Leaving Group E alone will be a difficult task for Team GB. Canada has beaten England twice in recent years, Japan is the host of the tournament and has formed its team for this tournament and Chile kept Germany in a 0-0 draw in June and can boast the best goalkeeper in the world in Christiane Endler .
However, with two of the three third-placed finishers moving into the knockout round, beating Chile in the opening game of the competition on Wednesday would likely be enough to advance. It would also give players valuable breathing space and a chance to develop a more cohesive unit on the pitch before the tournament hits the end of business. That’s the key.
There is no denying that Team GB has some of the best players in the world. The roster includes Fifa’s best player of the year Lucy Bronze, Chelsea forward and PFA and FWA player of the year award winner Fran Kirby, 2019 World Cup bronze boot winner Ellen White, two-time PFA junior player of the year Lauren Hemp ( and two former winners in their City teammate Georgia Stanway and Arsenal center-back Leah Williamson). With Arsenal’s very experienced Scottish midfielder Kim Little, they have one of the best midfield engines in the world. The great unknown is whether such talents can click as a group on the square in Tokyo.