Stephanie Houghton gave Great Britain Olympic lift-off in Cardiff with the only goal against New Zealand.
In front of a record international crowd in the UK for a women’s game, the 24-year-old curled home a superb second-half free-kick to give the home side a win that puts them on track for a place in the last eight of the 12-team competition.
Of almost equal importance, it maintained the feel-good factor sweeping around the country ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.
Match-winner: Steph Houghton celebrates scoring the winner with GB team-mate Ifeoma Dieke
For Durham-born Houghton it was fitting reward for the courage she showed to battle back from the disappointment of missing both the 2007 World Cup and 2009 European Championship through injury.
Even at last year’s World Cup, her contribution was limited to just 39 minutes of the quarter-final defeat to France.
Watching from the stands, FIFA president Sepp Blatter must have been impressed at the cool manner of Houghton’s finish, which secured a deserved win for Hope Powell’s players, who take on Cameroon at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Back of the net: New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon (centre) fails to stop Stephanie Houghton’s free-kick
Having complained so often at the lack of wider exposure her players have received down the years, Powell could hardly moan at the immense expectation that went with being the very first event of London 2012.
The enormity seemed to seep through though and, for 15 minutes, Team GB found themselves on the back foot against a New Zealand side that extended their hosts’ defensive capabilities, with Hannah Wilkinson a particular danger.
That opening period was halfway through before Powell’s side managed their first effort on goal, a curling Houghton free-kick which was pushed away by Jenny Bindon.
Heads you lose: Stephanie Houghton (top left) fights for the ball with New Zealand’s defence
It was a foretaste of what was to come.
It was also the trigger for a more cohesive attacking display, with the supporters – large enough in number but swamped by the sheer size of the arena – right behind their team for all the debate about whether there should actually be a GB presence on the football pitch at these Games.
There was even a ripple of ‘GB’ around the stadium, although it came from the voices of school-age fans who will care little for the politics that overshadows a concept where reservations run deeper than Scottish duo Kim Little and Ifeoma Dieke opting not to sing God Save The Queen.
Over the bar: Amber Hearn of New Zealand shoots at goal at the Millennium Stadium
With Arsenal full-back Alex Scott starting to make her presence felt with regular forays forward from right-back, Great Britain began to get on top.
Scott failed to make the most of a decent chance after she had skipped into the box and Anita Asante was also off target with a couple of headers.
Asante went closest to breaking the deadlock with a move that took place almost in slow motion as Eniola Aluko’s cross dropped to the far post.
Hot ticket: Fans enjoy the Olympic atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff
There seemed little conviction in Asante’s header. The direction was good though, with Bindon out of position and thankfully for New Zealand the post came to her rescue.
Great Britain continued to create chances following the introduction of Ellen White at half-time.
Jill Scott seemed to duck under Houghton’s cross as Bindon somehow pushed it behind, then Scott had a goalbound effort blocked by Ali Riley.
No way past? Jill Scott (left) attempts to send in a cross past New Zealand’s Katie Hoyle
When White lacked the pace to race away from the New Zealand defence, allowing Riley to block, it added to the hosts’ frustrations and brought a fear their superiority was not going to be rewarded.
To the Cardiff crowd’s delight, however, in the 64th minute Houghton kept her nerve with a 25-yard free-kick as she curled expertly into the bottom corner, with Bindon nowhere.
In the stands: FIFA president Sepp Blatter was in town watching the big Olympic kick-off
The cheers of delight were almost equalled by those of relief when a ridiculous mix-up between Scott and Dieke sent Sarah Gregorious clean through.
Gregorious panicked though, and rolled a pitiful attempt straight to Karen Bardsley.
Go GB! Fans arrive before the Group E match at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday
The Linkoping goalkeeper was called on again nine minutes from time, when she tipped an Amber Hearn shot over.
GB were not to be denied though as they secured a win that will be acknowledged far beyond the Welsh capital.
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