England to face tough test from dangerous Danes

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The Independent Online

Now comes the hard part. England, having successfully got their European Women's Championship campaign off the ground against group outsiders Finland, albeit with far more of a struggle than anticipated, take on Denmark at Ewood Park tonight knowing that victory will guarantee a semi-final place.

Now comes the hard part. England, having successfully got their European Women's Championship campaign off the ground against group outsiders Finland, albeit with far more of a struggle than anticipated, take on Denmark at Ewood Park tonight knowing that victory will guarantee a semi-final place.

Hope Powell's team may have the psychological advantage of being top of their group and of having beaten the Danes in a recent friendly, but that does not tell the whole story. Not only do Denmark have a higher world ranking but were semi-finalists four years ago and, last November, ended the 21-game unbeaten run of the United States.

Denmark have dangerous players across the pitch including Johanna Maria Rasmussen, whose excellent strike sealed a 1-1 draw against Sweden on Sunday, and Cathrine Paaske-Sorensen, a midfielder whom coach Peter Bonde describes as a player who "sets the pulse racing".

The Danish FA has invested heavily in the women's game, creating arguably their best squad for years. "England will be a tough opponent but they are still a team we should be able to beat," said Paaske-Sorensen yesterday. "We'll do everything we can to reach the final. At the least we must get to the last four."

Which is exactly the same goal, of course, as that of the host nation. Powell admitted after the last-gasp 3-2 win over Finland, which drew record viewing figures for a women's match, peaking at 2.9m, that her players were nervous.

The star of the show against the Finns was 17-year-old Karen Carney, who not only scored England's winner but troubled the opposition throughout. Such is the part-time nature of women's football that Carney had been revising for her A levels just hours earlier. "The FA have bought me a massive book and I've got to read all of it," she said. "I've been doing revision between training and swimming because some of the exams have been rescheduled. But it doesn't faze me."

Powell's big decision is whether to pick her most-feared player Kelly Smith, who is still recovering from a fractured foot, or to keep her on the bench and see how things progress.

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