World Cup place can cap it all for Coultard

Gillian Coultard left Upton Park hanging on to a commemorative silver cap on Wednesday night, a memento presented to her by West Ham's old favourite Geoff Hurst to mark her century of England appearances.

England left Upton Park hanging on to their aspiration of emulating their male counterparts in qualifying for the World Cup finals.

A 1-0 win over the Netherlands, courtesy of a moment of opportunism from their 17-year-old midfielder Susan Smith, kept them in with a chance of reaching the finals in the United States in 1999.

Only the group winner will progress, with the runner-up going forward to a play-off. But the cruel draw which placed England in a group including the European champions, Germany, and the world champions, Norway, means they will require something extraordinary if they are to go through. And - Smith's precocious intervention apart - there was nothing extraordinary on view at Upton Park.

"We have got to be realistic," Coultard said. "Being in a group with the world champions and the European champions it is going to be very, very difficult. But we wouldn't be here if we didn't think we could qualify."

At least England didn't lose against opponents they have not faced since 1978.

"Tonight was very important," England's manager Ted Copeland said. "We would have had a major hill to climb if we had lost."

Harsh words had been required to lift his players' performance after a dire first half.

"There were too many smiling faces and too many mediocre performances," Copeland said. "And Holland played better than we expected them to.

"One of the problems we've got is we have a lot of young players in the team and we are asking them for mature performances. Some of them let the pressure get to them."

England's next World Cup group match, at home to Germany on 8 March, is crucial. Copeland will attempt to maintain team spirit with regular training meetings and a number of friendly matches, starting with one against France in February.

The game against Germany, who beat England 3-0 in the opening group match last month, will be held at a venue yet to be arranged, but probably in the north.

"That's the one," Coultard said with a grim smile.

Mike Rowbottom