Choosing Team GB Olympic football squad was ‘hardest decision’, says Riise

Hege Riise has described narrowing the Team GB squad to 18 players and four reserves who will travel to Tokyo as “the hardest decision” the head coach has made but is “very happy with its strength and depth”.

Five 2012 Olympians have been included in the 18 – the England captain, Steph Houghton, midfielder Jill Scott, striker Ellen White, goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Scotland’s midfielder Kim Little – and Riise, who won gold with Norway at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, emphasised the importance of “having players with experience of it who can be almost coaches on the field, in training, in the meetings”.

Riise, addressing the absence of the Manchester City defender Alex Greenwood and Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs, said: “They were disappointed, respectful but disappointed, and I feel like the strength and depth we have is good.”

She added that playing time was a factor in omitting Chelsea’s forward Beth England. Bardsley is included, having played only 45 minutes of international football since the 2019 World Cup, because of her tournament experience and having upped her playing time by joining Washington State’s OL Reign on loan.

Riise said: “The mix we have now – the eagerness of the young players that want to do everything, and then the experienced players that can help to advise them to make the best decisions – is really good.”

Arsenal’s defender Leah Williamson sat outside in the Olympic Village on Super Saturday listening as fellow Milton Keynes native Greg Rutherford won gold. Making the Olympic cut was “surreal,” she said. She had not expected to be selected. “I told my Mum: ‘I’ve flown the nest, I just want to be on my own, I don’t have the greatest feeling, so I’ll stay on my own,’” she said. “I texted her saying: ‘I made it’ and then the doorbell rang, she’d driven with a bunch of flowers.”

Her clubmate Little, one of two Scotland players with Manchester City’s winger Caroline Weir, said the London Games were “some of the best memories I’ve had playing football”. The midfielder was 21 in 2012 and added: “At 21 you just go with things and you don’t have perspective. So I will definitely will try an be a lot more mindful of the magnitude of what I’m a part of.”

Chelsea’s defensive midfielder Sophie Ingle will be the first female footballer to represent Wales as part of Team GB and said “it still doesn’t feel real” to have the opportunity to “put Wales on the map at a major tournament”.

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Ingle said the Zoom meeting Riise held with the squad was inspiring. The manager had dug her medal out of the basement to show them. “There were ups and downs in our performances, but when it mattered the most in the final we played our best game,” Riise said. “That’s the message I wanted them to hear because we have a short time in our preparation. We will probably not play great football from day one but if we work hard, and believe in what we do, I think we can achieve what we all dream of.”