England 0 Germany 1
NOT for the first time, English footballing ambition was thwarted by Germany yesterday.
England women's chances of reaching next year's World Cup finals in the United States were drastically reduced by this defeat at the New Den. It could not have been narrower - on paper at least - but the fact remained that it was the 10th consecutive time they had been beaten by the four- times European champions.
England's inexperienced players now face a huge task if they are to emulate their male counterparts. Two of their three remaining qualifying matches are against the world champions, Norway, and they need at least one win to claim one of the two top places.
Ted Copeland, England's coach, conceded as much afterwards. "Today was a major disappointment for us," he said. "There is still a chance of getting the second qualifying place, but it is going to be tough for us."
Despite Germany's history of success, Copeland maintained that his young team - at one stage they had five teenagers on the field - had gone into this Group Three match with positive intent.
"Before the game we felt as though we could beat them," he said. The game plan was to pressurise a side weakened by injuries and try to score an early goal.
The game plan failed. For all their patient efforts, England only produced two shots on goal in the entire 90 minutes, through long-range efforts from Hope Powell and and Genevieve Murphy, a Millwall Lioness on her own patch. In truth, neither shot was a major problem for the German keeper, Claudia Von Lanken.
But the Germans, who looked fitter and better co-ordinated overall, did look seriously discomposed throughout by the performance of Kelly Smith, the 19-year-old who has been making a name for herself in the first year of a football scholarship in New Jersey.
Smith, who played for Arsenal before her departure for the US, was intelligent in everything she did. Sadly, her colleagues were not able to match her on too many occasions. Her contribution was summed up by the daring run which took her past two defenders late in the first half. Her driven cross was parried into the area by the keeper - but no one was supporting her.
The decisive goal came after 31 minutes when Sandra Smisek - unmarked - drove home a loose ball after Germany's impressive centre-forward, Birgit Prinz, had drawn England's defensive cover and been brought down by a challenge, which might have earned her a penalty.
Rachel Brown, making her first home start for England, failed in her attempt to tip the ball over the bar, although she made up for it in the second half by diving at the feet of Martina Voss to prevent what seemed sure to be a second goal.
ENGLAND (3-5-2): Brown (Liverpool); White (Arsenal), Marley (Everton), Britton (Croydon); Burke (Everton), Murphy (Millwall), Coultard (Doncaster Belles), Powell (Croydon), S Smith (Tranmere); Davis (Croydon), K Smith (Seton Hall, US). Substitutes used: Garside (Bradford) for Marly, h-t; Utley (Doncaster) for Powell, 82; Easton (Croydon) for Davis, 20. Substitutes not used: Cope (Millwall, gk), Catterall (Liverpool), Massey (Stockport), Exley (Doncaster).
GERMANY (3-5-2): Von Lanken; Stegemann, Jones, Hoffmann; Hingst (Grings, 86), Fitschen, Voss, Minnert, Prinz; Smisek (Meyer, 60), Gottschlich (Lingor, h-t).
Referee: E Odlund (Swe).