England face uphill task as Stoney hands Italy initiative

England 1 Italy 2

Ski-jumping is the major sporting activity in this post-industrial Finnish city, as the three giant jumps overlooking Lahti Stadium testified, but it was England's women who found themselves on the slippery slope yesterday.

Hope Powell's team made a disastrous start to their European Championship campaign, losing to group outsiders Italy in a match in which they also lost one player to a red card, another to injury, and the lead. For the second successive tournament England, the fifth-ranked team in Europe, are in danger of going out at the first hurdle.

England played for more than an hour with 10 after Casey Stoney, the Chelsea player-manager, was sent off for a professional foul. They nevertheless went ahead when Everton's Fara Williams converted a penalty won by Karen Carney. But Italy equalised early in the second period before snatching victory with a stunning long-range goal nine minutes from time.

England must now regroup before meeting Russia – who played group favourites Sweden last night – in Helsinki on Friday. Their prospects are dimmed by Stoney's suspension, and a couple of key injuries.

However, there could be a silver lining. This is a 12-team tournament, four more than in 2005. This makes for a messy qualification process with the top two from each of the three groups progressing plus the two best third-placed teams. Coming third in Group C would probably be to England's advantage as the group runners-up are seeded to face Germany, the world champions and favourites, in the quarter-finals.

A crowd of nearly three thousand saw England begin well. Then Williams lost possession in midfield, Patrizia Panico released Melania Gabbiadini inside Stoney who fatally put a hand on the Italian's shoulder. Gabbiadini went down and the German referee had little choice but to show a red card.

Unlike like some managers Powell did not seek refuge in blaming the referee. "If I am entirely honest I thought I saw her pull her back," she said.

Ten minutes later the US-based Carney jinked in to the box to be sandwiched by two defenders. Williams calmly slid home the penalty. But 11 minutes after the interval Williams was caught under a deep cross and the impressive Panico scored. Then, as time ebbed away, Alessia Tuttino, from 35 yards, lashed a shot past Rachel Brown.

England (4-2-3-1): Brown (Everton); A Scott (Boston Breakers), White (Arsenal), Asante (Sky Blue New Jersey), Stoney (Chelsea); Chapman (Arsenal), J Scott (Everton); Carney (Chicago Red Stars), Williams (Everton), S Smith (Leeds Carnegie); Aluko (St Louis Athletica), Substitutes: K Smith (Boston Breakers) for Aluko (h-t); Unitt (Everton) for Asante, 72; Sanderson (Chelsea) for S Smith.

Referee: B Steinhaus (Germany).

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