Denmark pack late punch to leave England's cup hopes on the ropes

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The Independent Online

England's hopes of a place in the semi-finals of the European Women's Championship were dealt a major blow last night when Hope Powell's team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by conceding two late goals after dominating Denmark for much of the game.

England's hopes of a place in the semi-finals of the European Women's Championship were dealt a major blow last night when Hope Powell's team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by conceding two late goals after dominating Denmark for much of the game.

Fara Williams' beautifully struck penalty early in the second half looked to have secured a semi-final berth to emulate the England men's team of Euro '96, only for the host nation to be punished for two lapses of concentration in the final 10 minutes that could prove irreparably damaging.

With three points from two games, England will now almost certainly have to beat World Cup runners-up Sweden in Saturday's final group game - something they have not done for 21 years. But it should have been so different.

If there was not quite the same sense of occasion as at the City of Manchester Stadium, when a European record crowd for a women's game roared England to a 3-2 victory over group outsiders Finland on Sunday, that was not necessarily a bad thing. Powell had admitted her side were nervous in front of such massive support and pledged they would play with more fluency against the Danes.

They certainly did as the wingers Rachel Yankey and Karen Carney took on their markers at every opportunity and the outstanding Kelly Smith, all strength and close control, pulled the strings in midfield.

England emerged for the second half minus their key player. Just like on Sunday, Smith, who had received lengthy treatment after a first-minute foul, managed only 45 minutes of action, still troubled by a foot injury.

With their playmaker absent, the game threatened to become a far more even contest but instead England deservedly grabbed the lead. Yankey was brought down by Mariann Knudsen and Williams' penalty was struck low into the corner past Tine Cederkvist.

Just as England were dreaming of taking on the Swedes with a semi-final place already in the bag and only group placings to play for, they were hit by not one but two sucker punches and this time, unlike Sunday when they salvaged a win after relinquishing a two-goal lead, there was no final last-gasp flourish.

First Merete Pedersen's sublime free-kick left Josephine Fletcher helpless. Denmark suddenly looked dangerous and with two minutes left Cathrine Paaske-Sorensen stole in to head home a right-wing cross to steal the points.

Powell did her best not to show her disappointment. "All credit to the girls, they were magnificent," she said. "We played far better today than against the Finns but that's football and now we'll have to deal with Sweden."

The Danish coach Peter Bonde said: "We were awful and it's a new experience for me. But mentally we were strong. Can England beat Sweden? Put it this way, England have some of the finest players in the tournament but they are going to have to play their best."

England (4-5-1): Fletcher; Scott, White, Philip, Unitt; Carney, Smith (Exley, 46), Williams, Chapman, Yankey; Barr (Aluko, 65).

Denmark (4-3-3): Cederkvist; Falk, C Pedersen, Andersen, Knudsen; Hansen, Paaske-Sorensen, Nielsen (Christensen, 71); M Pedersen, Rasmussen, Johansen (Jensen, 58).

Referee: A Ihringova (Slovakia).

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