STEPH Houghton labelled her historic match-winner as the highlight of her career after ensuring a victorious start to the Olympics for Team GB.
South Hetton full-back Houghton’s second half free-kick earned the hosts a 1-0 victory over New Zealand yesterday in Britain’s first ever appearance in the Olympic women’s football tournament.
For the 24-year-old, the goal was particularly sweet after experiencing her share of major tournament heartache – missing the 2007 European Championships and 2009 World Cup through injury and then reduced to a solitary substitute’s outing for England at last year’s World Cup.
But after becoming the first ever scorer for a GB women’s side, Houghton says she has banished the memories of the injuries which have haunted her on the international stage.
Houghton said: “It was a really special moment for me, the best of my career without a doubt.
“The first person to score at the London Olympics – that’s got a nice ring to it.
“I don’t score that many but I just fancied it. Hope said to us before that we were making history and that’s a great feeling.
“I’ve missed World Cups and European Championships before through injury so this is unbelievable.
“I’ve had a few disappointments along the way but I think those disappointments have made me the player I am today.
“It’s a really special moment for me and I think that finally puts those injuries behind me.
“I knew I had struck it well and when I picked my head up it was in the back of the net.
“I didn’t really know what to do with my celebration.
“I was trying to head towards the bench but I got tired and tried to slow down because it was so hot!”
Britain, with Houghton joined by fellow Wearsider, Sunderland’s Jill Scott, in the starting line-up, began nervously before gradually banishing the anxiety at the magnitude of the occasion.
Houghton almost found the net midway through the first half with another free-kick, only for Kiwi stopper Jenny Bindon to push the wickedly curling effort around the post.
Anita Asanta sent a couple of headers wide of the target before a third bounced off the outside of the post and behind from Eniola Aluko’s cross to the back stick.
Britain continued to dominate after the break – Ellen White denied by a scrambling last-gasp challenge as she raced through on goal.
Relief finally arrived after Houghton’s 64th minute strike, but New Zealand had two opportunities to draw level.
The most glaring miss of the two came in the immediate aftermath of Houghton’s goal after a horrifying mix-up in Britain’s defence between Alex Scott and Ifeoma Dieke, left Sarah Gregorious clean through on goal.
But Gregorious couldn’t keep her nerve and sidefooted a tame effort into the midrift of keeper Karen Bardsley.
The Britain keeper required more agile reflexes nine minutes from time when she tipped Amber Hearn’s dipping shot over the bar.
Victory left Britain in the driving seat to reach the quarter finals, with Hope Powell’s side now preparing to face Cameroon, thrashed 5-0 by Brazil yesterday, in Cardiff on Saturday.
Houghton added: “We’re delighted with the win, but for us it is about concentrating on the next game now.
“It’s great that everyone is getting behind Team GB and hopefully we can keep giving them a performance to be proud of and cheer.”