Hege Riise: Timing of Olympics email which left snubbed keeper in tears was ‘big mistake’
Team GB and England head coach Hege Riise says it was a “big mistake” that several players found out they were not on the Olympics squad shortlist shortly before kick-off in a Women’s Super League game earlier in March.
Birmingham manager Carla Ward criticised the “thoughtless” and “ridiculous” timing which left her 20-year-old goalkeeper Hannah Hampton “in floods of tears” 90 minutes before she faced Everton. It is understood Riise did not send the emails.
“The timing was not my call, but it was not how we want to work,” Riise said. “That was a big mistake. As soon as we found out, I called both the coaches and Hannah [Hampton] to apologise for the process. That was a mistake that we don’t want to happen again.”
Norway great Riise, who is the interim England head coach, has whittled down a shortlist of 35 players who remain in contention for a spot in the small 18-player Team GB squad for this summer’s Tokyo games.
Before then, her focus will be on April’s England friendlies against France and Canada and on Tuesday she named a 24-player Lionesses squad.
England captain Steph Houghton misses out with an Achilles injury, and Riise said Houghton was somebody you cannot replace but it was a chance for others “to step up”.
Forward Nikita Parris is also unavailable after several people tested positive for Covid-19 at her club side Lyon. That localised outbreak may yet hit April 9’s fixture against France in Caen, but it is not yet known how many of the French national side are affected. Riise added: “We don’t want to risk anything but our plan is to go to France and play. We haven’t heard anything different.”
Veteran goalkeepers Karen Bardsley and Carly Telford have both been recalled to the squad, while Birmingham’s Hampton misses out, with four shot-stoppers named in the squad, increasing from three in February.
Manchester City No 1 Ellie Roebuck and Everton keeper Sandy MacIver remain in the squad alongside the returning Bardsley and Telford, while among the outfield players Chelsea’s versatile youngster Niamh Charles has been called up for the first time and might provide backup to Lucy Bronze at right-back.
The absence of Houghton will be the most notable challenge for England to deal with. Manchester City’s 32-year-old skipper has earned 121 caps for her country and has been near ever-present for the Lionesses since being handed the armband by former head coach Mark Sampson in 2014.
Midfielder Jill Scott, who collected her 150th cap last time out in a 6-0 friendly win over Northern Ireland, could be in line to wear the armband again, after being named captain for sentimental reasons for that landmark appearance. Fifa Best Player of 2020 Bronze could also be in contention, along with striker Ellen White and some younger names.
“There will always be players that cannot come into due to injury and things we cannot control,” Riise said. “But I feel like that’s a chance for others to step up. Steph’s been captain and a major player for a long time. We can’t replace her, but it’s an opportunity for a younger player to step up.”
At centre-back, England have vast options to choose from. Houghton’s injury could give Arsenal duo Leah Williamson and Lotte Wubben-Moy a chance to start at centre-back, either as a partnership or with one of them alongside Chelsea’s Millie Bright, while Manchester United’s Millie Turner could also push for a place.
Manchester City left-back Demi Stokes has returned to the squad after injury, which may in turn provide yet another option at centre-back, because her club team-mate and fellow left-back Alex Greenwood has proven herself to be equally capable of slotting in as a left-side centre-half.
But with Houghton – if fit – among the few players surely certain of a space among the 18 for Tokyo, the upcoming England games will showcase the strong competition for places behind her.