England exposed by Muller

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The Independent Online
England 4 Germany 6

Mr Dick and Mr Kerr were turning in their graves during the first half of this women's international friendly last night.

Not only had the women's game, which drew crowds of up to 30,000 when Preston was its cradle in the 1920s and 30s, attracted a mere few hundred, but England were proving poor successors to Dick Kerr's ladies.

The works team bearing the names of those two local industrialists were unofficial world champions in their day and, when England trailed 5-0 just after the break, the evidence that English women's football has gone backwards in world terms was irresistible.

A tremendous second half revival saved face and briefly raised hopes that they might snatch a draw, but they had always been likely to struggle against one of the strongest sides in the expanding world of the female game.

Women's football likes to promote itself as a contest where pure skill holds sway, as opposed to the central role inevitably played by power and strength in the men's game. It was a shame so few Prestonians knew or cared that women's football was coming home last night, because they would have seen more skilful and imaginative play than in the average Second Division match on the same ground. But it was also true that Germany's considerable edge in size and athleticism came close to overwhelming England in the first half.

They were tormented from the start by the bearer of a surname familiar from the annals of Anglo-German football: Claudia Muller. Sent through on goal as she was in the 10th minute, her male namesake would have been intent on finishing the job himself, but she did the sharing, caring thing by providing Pia Wunderlich with an open goal.

Wunderlich soon scored her second with a crisp shot from Bettina Weigmann's cross and then laid on the pass for Muller to find the net. When Kelley Few miscued a clearance into her own net immediately before half-time and Muller claimed her second just after, England were heading for an embarrassment. But, with the wind at their backs, they rallied admirably, starting with Hope Powell's penalty after Vicky Exley had been tripped.

Joanne Broadhurst then scored two quick goals, with an opportunist snap- shot and a fine header, and England were completely revitalised.

Gill Coultard smashed a shot against the underside of the bar and turned away, Geoff Hurst-style, claiming the goal as it bounced down. Susan Smith followed up to make sure and, with five minutes left, England were only one goal in arrears. A great escape was in the offing, but in injury-time Muller completed her hat-trick.

Germany and England are in the same qualifying group for the next women's World Cup, along with the holders, Norway. Despite their spirited revival last night, England know that they face a formidable task.

ENGLAND (4-5-1): Cope (Millwall); Few (Arsenal), Marley (Everton), Bampton (Croydon), Cottier (Croydon); Williams (Arsenal), Burke (Liverpool), Coultard (Doncaster), Powell (Croydon), K Smith (Arsenal); Broadhurst (Arsenal). Substitutes: S Smith (Tranmere) for K Smith, 41; Exley (Doncaster) for Few, h-t; Waller (Millwall) for Bampton, 57; Easton (Liverpool) for Powell, 69.

GERMANY (4-4-2): Angerer (Rottenberg, h-t); Stegemann (Fuss, h-t), Fitschen, Jones, Bernhard; Hingxt, Voss, Weigmann, Wunderlich (Bornschein, h-t); Muller, Meinert.

Referee: Mr S Lodge (Barnsley).