Great Britain will compete in women’s football for the only the second time ever at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. However, they will fancy their chances of winning a medal as one of the strongest sides that has qualified for the tournament.
The responsibility of organising Team GB has fallen to the FA and qualification was secured by virtue of England finishing among the top three European sides at the last World Cup in 2019.
Team GB Women's football team have discovered their three opponents in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Northern Ireland booked their place at Women's Euro 2022 on Tuesday night by securing a 2-0 win over Ukraine.
Two disastrous errors saw England lose to Canada in Tuesday night's friendly in Stoke. Player ratings from the fixture.
Interim Lionesses coach Hege Riise, herself an Olympic champion as a player with Norway in 2000, has been placed in charge of Team GB and will be tasked with naming a squad that can draw from all four home nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Although there is no age restriction on women’s football at the Olympics, countries are only permitted to name 18 players in their final squad, plus four reserves who can be swapped in during the tournament if someone from the initial selection suffers a significant injury.
That makes competition for places fiercer than usual when most major international tournaments permit squads of 23 players. That is even more the case for Great Britain when players from four different national teams are eligible to be picked under one flag.
Riise has already compiled her preliminary squad list of 35 players that will need to be whittled down almost by half before the summer. An upcoming England training camp followed by friendlies against France and Canada will help with that, while she and her staff will have a close eye on any other home nations players on that list over the coming weeks.
What we know for sure about the list, because Riise has confirmed it to be true, is that all 24 players named in the England squad for the April international break are on the Olympics list.
It can also be safely assumed that Lionesses captain Steph Houghton, who is missing from that England squad through injury, is also on the list. The same can be said for Nikita Parris, whose England omission is the result of coronavirus restrictions and protocols, rather than form.
It is also known that promising Birmingham goalkeeper Hannah Hampton has not made the cut for the Olympics, having found out via email shortly before a recent WSL game against Everton. She was so distraught by the news that her performance was affected and Birmingham lost 4-0.
Despite being called up in the past, Hampton is not part of the England squad this time around. From that, we can infer that other English players on the fringes of the squad in recent months, such as Manchester United trio Katie Zelem, Lauren James and Alessio Russo, West Ham defender Grace Fisk and Bristol City forward Ebony Salmon, that have missed out are also not on the Olympics list.
If they were in contention to go to Japan with Team GB, they would almost certainly have been called up for this camp so that Riise could assess them. Their absence is therefore telling.
If it can then be assumed that there 26 names on the Olympics list from England, it leaves nine further places for players from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A number of the top WSL players are Scotland internationals. That includes Arsenal living legend Kim Little, Manchester City star Caroline Weir, who has an eye for spectacular goals, as well as younger attacking talents like Manchester United’s Kirsty Hanson and Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert.
Wales, too, have valuable players. Chelsea boss Emma Hayes is a big fan of Sophie Ingle, while Hayley Ladd has become one of Manchester United’s most important players since joining the club in 2019. A team with lots of technical players could also use the tenacity of a tough tackling midfielder like Angharad James, who has been poached by NWSL giants North Carolina Courage.
Sad as it may be, the likelihood of anyone from Northern Ireland even making the preliminary cut is slim. Most of the squad are not at a high enough club level to get in ahead of others. Rachel Furness is a standout Irish name but is with Liverpool in the Women’s Championship. Simone Magill is with Everton, but there are already too many better forward options from the other home nations.
Predicted 35-player Team GB preliminary Olympics squad:
Goalkeepers: Karen Bardsley (England), Sandy MacIver (England), Ellie Roebuck (England), Carly Telford (England)
Defenders: Jennifer Beattie (Scotland), Millie Bright (England), Lucy Bronze (England), Alex Greenwood (England), Steph Houghton (England), Sophie Ingle (Wales), Demi Stokes (England), Millie Turner (England), Leah Williamson (England), Lotte Wubben-Moy (England)
Midfielders: Niamh Charles (England), Lisa Evans (Scotland), Lauren Hemp (England), Angharad James (Wales), Hayley Ladd (Wales), Kim Little (Scotland), Jordan Nobbs (England), Jill Scott (England), Georgia Stanway (England), Ella Toone (England), Keira Walsh (England), Caroline Weir (Scotland)
Forwards: Erin Cuthbert (Scotland), Rachel Daly (England), Bethany England (England), Kirsty Hanson (Scotland), Chloe Kelly (England), Fran Kirby (England), Beth Mead (England), Nikita Parris (England), Ellen White (England)