Hope springs eternal for beaten England after pain of early exit

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The Independent Football

No more live terrestrial television coverage until the final itself and no more England. Has women's football missed a golden opportunity to imprint itself on the public consciousness following the elimination of the host nation or is the future as bright as the coach Hope Powell believes?

No more live terrestrial television coverage until the final itself and no more England. Has women's football missed a golden opportunity to imprint itself on the public consciousness following the elimination of the host nation or is the future as bright as the coach Hope Powell believes?

The answer is probably yes on both counts. A combined 70,000 fans watched England's three group games of the Women's European Championship but what of the legacy left behind in the wake of Saturday's defeat by Sweden?

The stature of the men's game is such it can always draw big crowds at this level of competition without the participation of the host nation. No one should be ignorant enough to compare the two codes but there is a serious danger the biggest football tournament in this country since Euro '96 will now become a mere after-thought both in terms of media attention and sporting priorities as far as your average fan is concerned.

Organisers are keen to point out 10,000 tickets have already been sold for next Sunday's final. But the chances of the last seven days sparking a boom in the women's game is a bit over-optimistic. Attendances for this week's two semi-finals should bear that out.

Hope, however, springs eternal - literally and figuratively. The next challenge is qualifying for the 2007 World Cup in China and Powell believes that is far more realistic than a few months ago. "I think what the girls have done has shut our critics up," she said. "We haven't reached the semi-finals but there are no longer any foregone conclusions. We beat Finland yet they're through and we're out. It shows there are no longer any clear-cut results. We've definitely progressed. This is a very young squad."

So it is and they will only get better. The frustration, however, is that they have not been in the spotlight quite long enough to become household names.

Powell refused to put a negative spin on proceedings when asked to explain England's back-to-back defeats after a winning start. Highly unfortunate to lose to Denmark, there were several general deficiencies, notably defensive naïvety and not nearly enough penetration in the final third.

Then there was the Kelly Smith factor. "Bend It Like Kelly" read a banner on Saturday. When England's star was running the show, the hosts looked superior to the opposition. The trouble was Smith had only just recovered from a fractured foot, played only 45 minutes in each of the first two games, and tired in the third.

Finally there was the fitness factor. While England have come on leaps and bounds in this regard, the Swedes were able to step up a gear when it mattered. Hardly surprising given the fact they train almost every day in arguably the toughest women's league in Europe.

"I hope that what people have seen in the last few days has opened their eyes," said the 18-year-old striker Eniola Aluko. "I hope it will have a positive effect on domestic football and football in the future in international terms." The next qualifying campaign should provide the answer.

Goal: Sjostrom (3) 0-1.

England (4-5-1): Brown; Scott, Chapman, White, Unitt; Phillip, Williams, Yankey, Smith, Carney (Barr, 70); Aluko.

Sweden (4-4-2): Lindahl; Tornqvist, Marklund, Bengtsson (Westberg, 79), Mostrom; Larsson, Ljungberg, Svensson (Oqvist, 90), Sjogran; Seger (Ostberg, 54), Sjostrom.

Referee: N Petignat (Switzerland).

Booked: England Yankey, Smith; Sweden Seger, Mostrom, Tornqvist.

Attendance: 25,694.

l Norway's stunning 5-3 victory over Italy at Deepdale secured an unlikely place in the semi-final of Euro 2005. France were favourites to qualify at the start of the day. Needing only a draw against Germany, they were on course for a point until Inka Grings scored 18 minutes from the end. Renate Lingor and Sandra Minnert also scored to make it 3-0.

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