Tameka Yallop on target as West Ham United stars kick off Olympic campaigns

Tameka Yallop

New West Ham United Women’s midfielder Tameka Yallop took just 20 minutes of her first-ever appearance at an Olympic Games to find the back of the net against New Zealand.

The 30-year-old had previously been called up by the Matildas for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics without featuring, but started Wednesday afternoon’s Group G game – Australia’s first of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

With fixtures against group favourites United States and Sweden still to come, the pressure was perhaps on Australia to get off to a strong start in the pool – but that was alleviated with one swing of Yallop’s right boot with a quarter of the game gone at Tokyo Stadium.

After New Zealand had gifted Australia possession high up the pitch, the onrushing Yallop was set up by a cute backheel from Sam Kerr. Drawing opposition goalkeeper Erin Nayler off her line, Yallop produced an emphatic finish which – try as she might – the New Zealand ‘stopper could not keep out of the net.

The experienced international midfielder – who is moving to East London from Klepp IL, manager Olli Harder’s former club, and who will wear the No13 shirt in Claret and Blue – celebrated the crucial goal passionately with her teammates.

It was to get even better for Yallop and her fellow Matildas 13 minutes later as Kerr powered home a header from a corner kick.

After seeing several chances spurned by fine stops from Nayler, and despite coming under greater New Zealand pressure in the second half resulting in an injury-time consolation goal for Gabrielle Rennie, Australia clung on for a crucial 2-1 victory.

The result puts Yallop and the Matildas level with Sweden on three points at the top of Group G with one game each played. The top two in each group (E, F and G – groups A to D comprise the men’s tournament) will qualify for the quarter-finals, plus the two best third-placed teams.

Elsewhere in the tournament, fellow Hammer Adriana Leon featured in the closing stages of Canada’s opening game against Japan, coming on as an 85th-minute substitute in the 1-1 draw.

All-time leading international goalscorer across men and women Christine Sinclair – who has a sensational 187 goals in 298 caps to her name – gave Canada a sixth-minute advantage with a smart finish at Sapporo Dome in Hokkaido.

But Japan were not deterred and, after plugging away throughout, answered that strike with a long-range shot from Mana Iwabuchi on 84 minutes.

Moments later, West Ham forward Leon was introduced to the action by coach Bev Priestman, but despite being well-positioned for a late cross, the ball in did not reach her and the game finished 1-1.

Elsewhere in the same group, West Ham fan Ellen White scored a brace for Team GB in their 2-0 tournament-opening win over Chile. 

Former Hammer Rachel Daly also started the game for Britain, and is scheduled to face off against Leon and the Canadians in their final group game on 27 July.