Team GB goal-den girl Steph Houghton has switched her focus from Olympic endeavour to the task of helping England qualify for the European Championship finals in Sweden next year.
By Tony Leighton
Houghton and 15 of her Team GB colleagues, who did the nation proud at London 2012, will be in the England squad to face Croatia in their must-win final group encounter here at the Banks’s Stadium on Wednesday, 19 September.
England are currently lying second in Group 6, two points behind leaders the Netherlands, but the Dutch have completed their fixtures and so beating Croatia would ensure a place at Euro 2013 for Hope Powell’s team.
A victory will be expected over the Croatians, who England beat 6-0 away from home with Arsenal left back Houghton on target twice as she gave an indication of what was to come from her shooting boots at the Olympic Games.
The 24-year-old defender became the Team GB pin-up girl after scoring in each of the side’s Olympic group matches, including the winner against Brazil at Wembley after scoring in wins against New Zealand and Cameroon at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Houghton said: “That night we beat Brazil, with over 70,000 watching at Wembley, was the stuff of dreams. Just to play at Wembley, let alone score the winning goal there, was something I never imagined I’d do and it was an unbelievable experience.
“It was the pinnacle of my career so far and it will be very, very hard to top it. But the whole Olympics experience was absolutely amazing and did so much not just for us players and fans but for the whole of women’s football in this country.
“Now we have the chance to really grow the women’s game, and if we can get the result we want against Croatia that will put us on another big stage next year in Sweden and hopefully raise the profile of our game still further.
“England have done well at Walsall in the past and hopefully we can keep that going. We played well in extreme heat in Croatia and on a personal note it was great to get two goals, but the result was all-important and it will be the same on September 19th.”
If England win the game to qualify then Houghton will be in line to take part in a European finals for the first time after the heartache of injuries that cost her a place in the squad for not only Euro 2009 but before that for the 2007 World Cup in China.
“It was desperately disappointing to miss out on two massive tournaments,” said Houghton, “but all the hard rehabilitation work I had to put in was worth it when I played at the World Cup in Germany last year and those incredible Olympic Games.
“Hopefully now I can help us to qualify for Euro 2013. The girls did great to reach the final of Euro 2009 in Finland, and if we get to Sweden and I’m involved I’d love nothing more than to help us go all the way again.”
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