By James McManus
The Olympic Games are almost upon us and the task of opening the fooball calendar for the Games next month falls to Team GB's women's side, who kick off their campaign with a fixture against New Zealand.
Under the guidance of the hugely experienced Hope Powell, the side, who have been thrust together over the past month or so, go into the tournament with a very real chance of picking up a medal on home soil.
This summer's Games have captured the imagination of a global audience and, having only been an Olympic sport since 1996, the women's game will be keen to put on a good show before the men get their respective tournament underway a day later.
Goal.com previews what we can come to expect from Team GB's women's side over the next few weeks.
The 18-strong squad entered the tournament without having to qualify as they are the host nation, which means that they enter the fray with just one game under the belts, the recent 0-0 friendly draw against Sweden, although an unofficial behind-closed-doors friendly against South Africa did take place, with Team GB running out 3-1 winners.
This is the first ever women's Olympic football team to represent Great Britain after the in-fighting between the home nations' Football Associations derailed any proposed participation in the 2008 Beijing Games.
Team GB's qualification had already been sealed by reaching the quarter-finals of World Cup 2007, but their place eventually went to Sweden instead, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all ruling themselves out on the grounds of protecting their sovereignty, the same issue that had plagued the men's team.
Powell's side will get the entire Olympic Games underway when they face New Zealand at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on July 25, two days before the Games are formally opened by the Queen at the Olympic Stadium. They have a second match against Cameroon, again in Cardiff, on July 28, before their final group game against 2008 Olympic runners-up Brazil at Wembley on July 31.
In the squad, only two of the players come from outside England, in Scotland duo Ifeoma Dieke and Kim Little, while the rest are the usual familiar faces from Powell's England squad, with the country's all-time top goalscorer, Kelly Smith (pictured above), included after recovering from a broken leg. Fara Williams, Alex Scott and Rachel Yankey are the other standout names, while experienced defender Casey Stoney has been named as skipper.
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Rachel Yankey is only the second ever player to have reached 100 caps for England at international level, after Gillian Coultard, and the Arsenal Ladies midfielder is not only a classy operator but a sound technician on the pitch.
With a decent goalscoring record of just over one goal every six games for England, she will be expected to provide a goalscoring threat, which bodes well going into the tournament, and, at 33 years of age, she has enough tactical nous and big-game knowledge to act as a calming influence to the squad's less experienced players.
Yankey has also garnered something of a reputation as a free kick specialist over the years and she struck the only goal during England's 1-0 over Netherlands last month. The midfielder has won the Women's Premier League six times during a trophy-laden career.
England Women's coach Hope Powell is the person tasked with putting the squad through their paces throughout the tournament and she comes with an excellent pedigree and a wealth of international experience after being appointed to the role back in October 2011.
Appointed as the first ever full-time coach of the women's national side back in 1998, the 45 year-old former international midfielder has overseen a steady but noticeable improvement in the team's fortunes, where they have gone from also-rans to beaten European Championship finalists back in 2009.
The ranks of the women's game have also professionalised hugely during that time, with Powell an outspoken and influential figure in helping to drive the change in attitudes towards the female side of the sport, and she has presided over 150 international games during her 14-year coaching career.
Given the fact that they are now a top-10 team in the world and not all of the best sides are even at this tournament, Team GB should see the semi-finals as a realistic goal, with perhaps the chance of sneaking a medal.
Neither second-in-the-world-ranked Germany nor 10th-rated Australia will be in London, while both group opponents New Zealand and Cameroon are outside Fifa's current top 20.
While France, who knocked England out of the World Cup 2011 quarter-final, are a huge threat, both Brazil and USA are perhaps the main aspirants to the gold medal. The fact that the Games are being held on home soil could prove as much of a hindrance as a help, although it all depends on how the squad cope with the pressure and expectation of being the host nation.
However, with an experienced coach at the helm and a few wise heads in the dressing room, they should be able to negotiate their way past a potentially tricky group and four points from their opening two group games should be enough to see them through to the latter stages, before the mouth-watering probable showdown against Brazil.
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