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Arsenal and Scotland star Kim Little holds key to unlocking talent of Team GB’s English core at Tokyo Olympics

·3-min read
 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

There are 19 England players in this 22-strong Great Britain squad and eight of the XI that started their opening group stage win over Chile are team-mates at Manchester City. It is curious then, that the player charged with knitting it all together falls into neither camp.

Arsenal and Scotland’s Kim Little excelled from a No10 role inside the Sapporo Dome on Wednesday night with a typically tidy and incisive display, creating chances and posing a goal threat herself as Team GB produced a performance that was far more dominant than the 2-0 scoreline suggested.

The result means Hege Riise’s side can book their quarter-final place with a game to spare when they face hosts Japan on Saturday and the Norwegian coach will have been delighted by the way that the centrepiece of her jigsaw slotted swiftly into place.

“It’s just exciting to play with new players and a different team and to see what we’re capable of,” Little said. “Naturally when you’re playing at this level and with the qualities we have throughout the team, you will find those connections, like we did in the game early on.”

Little has experience of integrating into a largely English squad, having been one of just two Scottish players in the British side at London 2012.

Steph Houghton, Jill Scott and Ellen White are the other survivors from that campaign nine years ago, but it was with Olympic debutant Lauren Hemp that Little appeared to strike up an immediate understanding as the Man City winger terrorised the Chileans during the first half of the group stage opener.

“I don’t think I’ve played with someone as fast as Lauren,” Little said. “As a midfielder I’m quite central and I think as soon as she has space and is wide, then my role is to get the ball to her one-on-one.

“We did that well, mixing it up, we combined well and got in behind as well as her taking on the right-back as much as possible. She’s so enjoyable to play with, she’s got so much in front of her and to perform as well as she did on this stage at such a young age is great.”

The appreciation is mutual, with 20-year-old Hemp hailing Little’s influence as she make her major tournament bow.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

“She’s really impressive and everyone can see that from her week in, week out at Arsenal,” Hemp said. “It’s pretty incredible to be able to share a pitch with her.

“Obviously, she’s been at the Olympics before so everyone knows her ability on the pitch and off the pitch she’s someone I’ve learnt from. She’s a bit older and a lot more experienced than I am, so it’s nice to absorb everything that she’s doing and learn from her.”

Little’s experience is clearly valued by Riise, too, with the Scot named as one of three co-captains alongside England skipper Houghton and Wales’ Sophie Ingle.

Houghton had the honour of wearing the armband on opening night but Little is set to lead the side against Japan, with Ingle then expected to do so for the final group match against Canada.

“The way Hege’s put together this team, it’s a team full of players that will lead in different ways, but of course it would be a proud moment,” the 31-year-old added.

Unburdened by the agony of England’s semi-final defeats at three successive major tournaments, Little’s guile may well hold the key to a run deep into an Olympics that appears all the more open for favourites USA’s listless defeat to Sweden.

Armband or not, she already looks the beating heart of this side.

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