London 2012: Hope Powell praises history-making Great Britain

Great Britain 1-0 New Zealand

Great Britain coach Hope Powell has backed her women's football team to flourish after their historic victory over New Zealand.

Steph Houghton's free-kick gave GB a 1-0 win over the Football Fearns at the Millennium Stadium in what was the first event of the London Olympics.

"The message for the girls is they made history today," said Powell, who is in charge of the England team.

"And the fact we have got three points kind of settles you down a bit."

Playing in scorching conditions, Powell's team looked nervous in the opening minutes of their Group E match but were ultimately good value for their victory after creating a series of excellent chances.

"It was a tough contest in the conditions," added Powell.

"It was a battle. We wanted the girls to enjoy the experience, to try to have fun, and we recognised it was the first event [of the Games] and a chance for them to showcase their talent.

"The girls took time to find their feet, but I am really pleased to get the first one out of the way."

Despite much scepticism about the participation of a Great Britain team in the Olympic football tournament, the home nation received enthusiastic support from the crowd of 24,549 inside Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

"You could really hear the atmosphere, it felt great," said Powell, who had impressed upon her side before the fixture that it presented an unprecedented opportunity to boost the profile of the women's game in this country.

"It was nice to come to a big stadium; it really inspires the girls to do well. They relish that."

Powell was also quick to recognise the significance of the match to goalscorer Houghton, who was making her first start at a major tournament.

The Arsenal full-back has 27 England caps but was injured before both the 2007 World Cup and Euro 2009, and was restricted to substitute appearances at the 2011 World Cup.

However, she went close with a free-kick in the opening half against the Kiwis and struck after the break with a curling dead-ball strike that nestled in the bottom corner.

"Steph was in shock and did not know what to do when the goal went it but I'm really pleased for her," said Powell. "She has made history. She has been really unlucky but worked really hard to get back in condition. She is one of fittest in the squad."

Houghton's Arsenal team-mate Kelly Smith is another player battling back from injury and lasted 65 minutes as she continues to improve her match fitness after recovering from a broken leg.

In contrast to Houghton, Smith has vast experience of major tournaments, having played at two World Cups and three European Championships.

And although she admitted the occasion may have got to the players at the start, Smith reckons the three points against the Football Fearns leaves GB in a strong position to qualify for the last eight

"We have been working for so hard and for so long for this," said Smith. "After we were told it would be the first game, there was a little bit of pressure and I think it showed, but the nerves will now be settled for the second game.

"We wanted to be the first GB team to pick up a win, and the result puts us in a really strong position in the group because New Zealand know they have got to get something out of their game against Brazil, which will be tough for them."

The top two from Group E will qualify for the last eight of the competition, with the two best third-placed finishers from the three groups also joining them.

GB return to action against Cameroon on Saturday with another match in Cardiff.

The African side were defeated 5-0 by Brazil in Wednesday's second match at the Millennium Stadium but Powell had them watched in recent friendlies against Northern Ireland and Scotland and is predicting a difficult contest.

"Playing them will be a tough proposition, they are very unorthodox if you like, they will be very fast and physical," said the GB coach.

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