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Hope Powell: We must play with freedom

08:34 21 July 2012

Team GB Women's coach Hope Powell during the Olympic friendly match at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough.

Team GB Women's coach Hope Powell during the Olympic friendly match at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough.

Olympic warm up game: Great Britain 0 Sweden 0

Team GB coach Hope Powell has called on her side to overcome their nerves ahead of Wednesday’s Olympic opener against New Zealand.

Her side held their own in the 0-0 draw with Sweden but were unable to show much attacking force.

“I think we need to play with a bit more freedom,” Powell said.

“I learned that we have gelled in parts, but in the first half we played within ourselves. We were a little bit negative at times when we could have gone forward, final-third play, little things.”

Rachel Yankey came within inches of sending Team GB into their Olympic campaign on the back of a victory as the woodwork came to Sweden’s rescue.

The 33-year-old Arsenal striker came off the bench at the break to rattle the post with a 70th-minute shot after being played in by fellow substitute Karen Carney.

Great Britain held sway before the break, but were forced to defend for long periods after with Ife Dieke particularly impressive at the back as the Swedes staged a second-half fightback.

Hope Powell’s side will nevertheless head into the tournament brimming with confidence after negotiating a difficult encounter with much credit.

Great Britain’s women launch their first Olympic campaign against New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium next Wednesday in what will be the first event of the entire Olympic Games, and they will do so with high hopes of making an impact after more than holding the Swedes, who finished third at last summer’s World Cup finals.

Powell knew they would present her side with a stern test of their credentials having seen them reach the semi-finals in Germany, where her England team went out in the last eight.

In the circumstances, she must have been delighted with what she saw during the opening 45 minutes as GB dominated until a late flurry of activity in Karen Bardsley’s goalmouth immediately before half-time.

Right-back Alex Scott and left-winger Eni Aluko caused the Scandinavians all sorts out problems down the flanks with their pace and power, and Hedvig Lindahl’s goal came under threat far more regularly than that of her opposite number.

However, if Powell could have had one complaint, it was that the final ball was not accurate enough on more than once occasion to leave her strikers short of meaningful service.

Indeed, it was left-back Steph Houghton who came closest to opening the scoring during the first half, blasting a long-range effort just over the bar after playing a well-worked one-two with Ellen White on the edge of the penalty area.

Striker Kelly Smith only just missed the target with an audacious effort from distance seconds later with Lindahl back-pedalling desperately.

GB had suffered few scares of any note at the other end, although Casey Stoney was relieved to see Caroline Seger scuff her effort wide after the defender’s error had presented she and Sofia Jakobsson with a gilt-edged opportunity.

But as time ran down, the visitors started to make an impression, and Bardsley found herself in demand.

The American-born keeper, who had earlier been relieved to see Marie Hammarstrom’s shot drift wide, did well to beat away Kosovare Asllani’s 40th-minute drive at her near post, and then had to deal with Jakobsson’s skidding attempt after she had cut inside from space on the left as the whistle approached.

Both managers made changes at the break with Powell sending on Rachel Brown, Fara Williams and Rachel Yankey for Bardsley, Anita Asante and White, while opposite number Thomas Dennerby replaced right-back Annica Svensson with Lina Nilsson.

Sweden’s newcomer almost made an instant impact when she got forward well to cross from the right within three minutes of the restart, but Stoney read Seger’s dummy and managed to intercept before any damage could be done.

The visitors were enjoying their best spell of the game, and Brown had little time to bed herself in before she had to claim Lisa Dahlkvist’s 52nd-minute strike.

The GB keeper had to rush from her line to confront Jakobsson three minutes later with the striker getting to the ball before her, but her chipped effort landed wide.

Powell’s side was making little impact as an attacking force as they found themselves defending deep, and Brown was called upon to keep out efforts from Sara Thunebro and Asllani in quick succession.

But it was Great Britain who came agonisingly close to taking the lead with 20 minutes remaining as Carney and Yankey combined to good effect.

Carney’s inch-perfect pass split the Swedish defence and allowed Yankey to run in on goal, but with Lindahl beaten, her shot came back off the post.

The Swedish keeper was beaten once again nine minutes later when Carney floated the ball over her head from 35 yards, but her effort also cleared the bar.

Yankey had another, harder, chance as time ran down after again finding space behind the Sweden defence, but with little support, she was unable to hit the target as the yellow shirts arrived in force.

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