CARDIFF (Reuters) - Britain won the first competitive contest of the London Olympics when a free kick from Stephanie Houghton gave them a 1-0 victory over New Zealand in the opening match of the women’s football tournament at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday.
Not only was the match the first event of the Games, it was also the first competitive match the British team had ever played and Houghton earned her place in women’s soccer folklore with her 64th minute shot.
Britain has not competed in Olympic football since the men’s team failed to qualify for the 1972 Munich Games because Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland fear for their independent status within world governing body FIFA if they allow their players to compete for a united British side.
As a consequence Britain did not enter the Olympics from 1976, but as hosts, they were obliged to enter a team for these Games ensuring this match a certain historic significance.
Much of the action on the pitch will not live long in the memory.
New Zealand were the first to settle in the hot conditions, but Britain, with Jill Scott and Anita Asante combining well, took a grip on the game and they went close to scoring after 21 minutes.
Kiwi keeper Jenny Bindon, at 39 the oldest player in the competition, did well to punch clear from a corner, then made an excellent reflex save to deny Eniola Aluko what looked to be a certain opening goal.
Britain went close again 15 minutes later when Aluko crossed for Anita Asante but she hit the post with Bindon beaten.
New Zealand made little impression on the British defence and Alex Scott and Casey Stoney nullified what little threat there was from Sarah Gregorius and Hannah Wilkinson.
Even when Gregorius got a lucky break after a mix-up between Scott and Stoney 18 minutes from time, she failed to finish with a weak shot straight at goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.
Amber Hearn did force Bardsley to tip over the bar in the closing minutes, but Britain comfortably played out time for a well-deserved victory in the first of the days six women’s games. Brazil and Cameroon, the other two teams in the group were playing in Cardiff later (7:45 p.m. British time)
Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Martyn Herman