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Houghton reflects on beating Brazil after picking up honour
HERE'S a decent quiz question for you ahead of tomorrow's game at Wembley. Who is the only English footballer to have scored a winning goal against Brazil in a competitive fixture?
It's not John Barnes, whose unforgettable strike in the Maracana came in a friendly in 1984. It's not Gary Lineker, who struck the winner when England last beat Brazil at Wembley 13 years ago, but who also found the target in a friendly international. It's not even Tommy Taylor or Colin Grainger, who shared the goals when a Brazilian side first visited English shores in 1955.
A clue? Think a little closer to home, and a little more recently.
The only English player to have scored a competitive winner against Brazil is South Hetton's Steph Houghton, who claimed the only goal of the game as Team GB's women's team triumphed in front of 70,000 spectators at Wembley in last year's Olympics. In terms of footballing claims to fame, it's not exactly a bad thing to have on your CV.
"I'm not someone who normally likes to watch my old games, but my grandma has the goal on her Sky Plus, so whenever I go round there, she sits me down and puts it on," said Houghton, who started her career with Sunderland before moving on to her current club, Arsenal.
"It's one of those moments I can still remember really vividly anyway. It was amazing to see the ball hit the back of the net."It's always going to be a special occasion when you play against Brazil, but to get the opportunity to do it in the Olympics, at Wembley, in front of 70,000 people was just incredible.
"From the moment the draw was made, the squad as a whole highlighted that game. We'd heard how many people were going to be there, we were all well aware of Brazil's history and pedigree in the game, and in terms of raising the profile of women's football, we all knew the importance of that game.
"It was just one of those days when everyone stepped up to the plate and produced a performance. Right through the side, everyone played to a really high level. And it was obviously extra-special to be the one that was fortunate enough to get the goal."
It wasn't just that goal either. Houghton scored in all three of Team GB's group games to emerge as the star of a British side that captured the public's imagination and successfully seized the opportunity to put women's football on the map.
The full-back also appeared in all eight of England's qualifying matches for this summer's European Championships, scoring another three goals as Hope Powell's side confirmed their status as one of the favourites for the tournament in Sweden.
She was named England Women's Player of the Year at the inaugural FA England Awards at St George's Park on Sunday evening, a prize that provided a fitting reward for a remarkable 12 months.
"It was a special night," said Houghton. "There were so many great people from the footballing world there, and it just shows how far women's football has come that we were able to be a part of that."The women's team won Team of the Year and we were all really excited about that, and then on a personal level, to be named Player of the Year was brilliant. I still don't think it's really sunk in.
"It's been an incredible 12 months. This time last year, I just wanted to help England qualify for the Euros and then make the squad for the Olympics. Back then, anything else would have been an absolute bonus.
"So for all this to have happened is unbelievable really. I can't stop smiling. When I was little at school, all I ever wanted to do is play football. To be able to do that and represent a club like Arsenal as well as play for my country is a dream come true."
The dream isn't finished though, and while the next 12 months might not contain an event with the profile or prestige of the Olympics, there are still plenty of goals in Houghton's mind.
"Domestically, Arsenal are all about winning things," she said. "We won two trophies last year, but were probably a bit disappointed we didn't win more.
"We've got a Champions League quarter-final coming up, and we'll also be targeting the league and FA Cup. I see Sunderland won in the FA Cup at the weekend, so it would be nice to play in the North-East again, although the way they're playing, we'd probably want to avoid them!
"With England, the major focus is obviously the European Championships. The first priority is always the same - do everything I can to make sure I'm named in the squad.
"Hopefully, once that happens, we can go to Sweden and give a really good account of ourselves. The Olympic experience has proved we have good enough players to take on anyone in the world, and even though we're in a tough group with the likes of France and Spain, we'll certainly be optimistic."