England seized the initiative in their Euro 2013 qualifying group with a 1-0 win over current leaders Holland in Salford at the weekend.
An entertaining opening ensued between the top two sides in the group and it was Holland’s Lieke Martens who registered the game’s first shot at goal in the sixth minute. Rachel Brown had it covered but couldn’t quite gather and the ball went out for a corner.
Karen Carney responded immediately and cracked a shot just high of Loes Geurts’ bar. Rachel Williams then headed into Geurts’ arms after being found by Rachel Yankey’s in-swinging right-wing cross.
The game developed into a fairly even contest with the hosts shading possession, but the ball was only being kept around the back and middle thirds.
When the hosts did carve out an opening, right-back Alex Scott couldn’t connect properly with her cross and the ball bent out for a goal kick.
Eniola Aluko started brightly on the right wing and she had England’s best chance of the half when she was released by Rachel Williams, but her angled drive was well held by Geurts, although Aluko probably should have shot first time.
With 42 goals in 89 previous international, it was inevitable that Holland’s Manon Melis would eventually see a chance fall her way and just before the half an hour mark she forced a decent save from Brown, which kept the score goalless.
Ellen White was introduced at the beginning of the second half for Williams, and she was straight into the action, rifling home an angled volley from the edge of the area, only for her sublime strike to be ruled out for offside.
The second period followed much the same pattern as the first, with neither side able to totally dominate or create many clear-cut chances but Jill Scott did head a Carney free-kick just over the bar.
With the game so evenly poised, it seemed likely that a set piece was the best route to goal for both sides, and that proved to be the case when Holland captain Daphne Koster fouled Fara Williams on the edge of the box.
With the Dutch defence hesitantly organising their wall, Yankey took full advantage and sent a quick free-kick past Geurts and into the back of the net making it 1-0.
It was just the breakthrough that England needed to give themselves a chance of overhauling Holland at the top of the group, but the Dutch came straight back at the Three Lions and just a minute after conceding, Anouk Hoogendijk hit a shot across goal which Brown was relieved to see clip the upright and Bradley clear.
A draw would have been good enough for the Dutch and Melis called Brown into action again with a header to the back post, but the ‘keeper was alert and kept England’s lead intact and Brown had one more save to make in added time, comfortably collecting Melis’ shot from 20 yards in the last seconds of the game.
With this win, England are now just two points behind the Dutch, but they still have a game in hand that takes place this Thursday in Slovenia.
A win there would send them top of Group 6 and the team would then just need to beat Croatia at home in September to seal a place at Sweden 2013.
Lizzie Flint, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine