Team GB footballer Steph Houghton says head coach Hege Riise is the ideal person to try and lead them to Olympic gold, having achieved it herself as a player.
The former midfielder was a midfielder when Norway topped the podium at Sydney 2000, beating the USA 3-2 after extra-time.
Houghton’s earned selection for her second Games, nine years after her first at London 2012, and is the favourite to captain the side given her experience as England skipper. The defender is part of an 18 player squad which includes 10 of her Manchester City team-mates.
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Riise took over as interim England boss when Phil Neville left to join Inter Miami, filling a gap between his departure and Sarina Wiegman taking up the post, making her the perfect choice to take charge of Team GB in Tokyo.
“I’ve worked with Hege for a short space of time but every time I’m in a conversation I’m so engaged with her,” she said.
“I think her experience and CV and the fact that she’s won an Olympic gold medal, that kind of speaks for itself.
“She’s quite reserved, she observes quite a lot but when she speaks you listen.
I think we have no better person to lead us to the Olympic Games than someone that’s already got a gold medal and experienced that winning feeling so for me, I’m so excited to work with her again and hopefully we can go and do her proud.
Houghton says she was “desperate” to earn selection for Tokyo 2020, having experienced the highs of London 2012, often seen as the catalyst for the growth of the women’s game in the past decade. She cannot wait to share the same feelings with the younger members of the squad, as well as Jill Scott, Ellen White, Kim Little and Karen Bardsley, who will also become two-time Olympians.
Asked how important the Games rate in comparison to the World Cup and European Championship, Houghton was keen to emphasise it is one of her career goals to take home an Olympic medal.
“Everybody kind of presumes we look towards a World Cup or European Championship as the pinnacle of our career but to have that experience of London 2012, it outweighed all my expectations personally.
I think to be part of a team, first and foremost, that’s what makes football so special but to be a team within a team, to make our country proud and to go over there and be successful, that’s what excites us most.
“We know for a fact we’re going to have the whole country behind us and with the current climate how it is, it’s about us trying to put smiles back on faces, make people proud of us and hopefully medal as well.
“I look at the squad and the individuals that we have and the mix of not just English players but Scottish and Welsh players, and I think it’s a squad full of quality, people that have individually played in big games, whether that’s a Champions League final or the highest games at the World Cup for their country.
“It really excites us the talent that we have and I think we’ve got the perfect blend of youth and experience and for us our expectation is always to go and win as many games.”
Houghton struggled with an Achilles tendon injury at the back end of the Women’s Super League season, but the defender insists she will be fit for the start of the Games when they open against Chile on June 21.
“It’s not been ideal preparation, to be missing just over a month and a half worth of games is unlike me but there were lots of conversations behind the scenes.
My aim was to represent Team GB at the Olympics and I just had to listen to the doctors and England and Manchester City, the physios, and the S&C coaches and take my time a little bit more so that I’m ready to go.
“I’m 100% fit, I’ve been training over the last few weeks, I feel confident in my body and I just can’t wait to start training with the rest of the girls.”
Team GB’s group also features a match against hosts Japan on June 24, followed by Rio 2016 bronze medallists Canada three days later.
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