Team GB women’s football team start from clean slate in bid for Tokyo Olympics glory

Hege Riise’s Team GB women’s football team are now in the thick of their preparations for this summer’s Olympic games in Tokyo.

It is only the second time that a team has been entered for the competition: it was a requirement as hosts of London 2012 but an agreement could not be reached between the home nations’ associations to field a squad in 2016.

Manchester City midfielder Caroline Weir is one of only three non-English players to have been called up, with fellow Scot Kim Little and Wales’ Sophie Ingle also getting the nod. Her first time at an Olympics is something she regards as one of the best achievements in her career.

“For me personally, it’s one of my most proud achievements, being selected for this squad, just because I knew how competitive it was,” she says. “Obviously we were thinking about it last season and then it got postponed so we had a full season to play for selection.

“So for me, it was quite a challenge to not think about it too much but it was always in the back of my mind. I’m very proud to be here, I’m very proud to be selected alongside such a talented group of people and players, some of whom I play with at club level.”

Riise, who is also England’s interim head coach, faces a challenge perhaps unique to her team: she has to build a winning side in a matter of mere weeks. They have one warmup match – against Zambia on 1 July – but that is it before they travel to Japan.

Is it much of a worry for the players, or rather a chance to not replicate many of the longstanding problems that England have had? “I think it’s definitely one of our challenges ahead. But I also think it’s an opportunity: we’re starting afresh, it’s a clean slate, it’s a new team,” continues Weir.

“We all know each other as players, we play against each other if not as teammates, it’s about spending time on the pitch. Off the pitch as well is important, there’s various things we’ll do, meetings and workshops. Where it counts, on the pitch, we’ll do a lot of training sessions, a lot of tactical meetings.”

Owing to the pandemic, England haven’t played a match away from home soil since March 2020 when they contested the SheBelieves Cup in the United States. International fixtures being limited to home soil means that Team GB’s players haven’t been able to test themselves in an environment similar to Japan where the heat will pose yet another challenge for players.

In 2017, Rachel Daly collapsed due to heat exhaustion during a match for the Houston Dash and had to be taken to hospital. Since then the defender – who plays as a forward for her domestic team – has learnt to deal with the heat and she believes that Team GB have the right structures in place to also do so.

“I don’t think I can recall what it was like for obvious reasons,” she reveals. “It was tough, I think the heat definitely plays a big factor. I’ve learnt over the past few years how to manage it and I think I’m really good with it now.

“I think that back then I was a bit naïve to how hot it was and the humidity. It was a kickoff at 3 o’clock in the afternoon at the heart of the summer so it was tough. The strategies that we’ve got in place here to acclimatise and ones that I’ve been following over the past few years [will help]. It is tough but it’s how you manage it and how you get used to it and how you can adapt.”

Another advantage that Daly has over the rest of her teammates is that she is currently in the peak of her form. America’s NWSL follows a summer season and so she is currently in the swing of playing regular football, while her teammates have had a few weeks off.

“I feel good, I feel fit, I feel healthy,” she adds. “I think the heat definitely plays a role for me, I feel sharp, I can cope with the acclimation and stuff like that. It’s not really me in the training camps usually and then in other training camps, I’m usually in my off-season and the other girls are in their season so it’s nice to have it the other way round for me and feel ready to go.”

For the rest of the team, who have already had to deal with a packed domestic fixture schedule, many have struggled to get in any real rest. Sophie Ingle, for whom the problem is exacerbated due to Chelsea’s progression to the Champions League final, is one of those.

“I’d like to say I have [managed to rest] but I haven’t,” Ingle told the media. “It’s been a hectic season, a lot of games, obviously finishing our season a lot later because of the Champions League. I then had I think about eight days off from running, so I did get a small break. More mentally, I think you have to switch off from football and be ready to recover and go again.

“I did a few small sessions before going back into Welsh camp and then luckily I was away for ten days so I got some training under my belt. But again, it was gradual and limited due to the first few days back. I had one day off after camp to come into Team GB but again we were managed and in training so that’s really interesting over the past few weeks.”

With the Euros in full swing, the British public have been treated to insights from one of women’s football greatest tactical minds in recent weeks: Emma Hayes. Ingle is coached by her at club level and is not in any way surprised by the praise she has received for her work on ITV.

“I haven’t [watched any games Hayes been on] but I did see that she was trending on Twitter which doesn’t surprise me,” she says. “She’s obviously a very good coach and she’s tactically aware of the game and she has such good insight when she’s watching the game. That’s just showing to the world now how good she is.”

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