Hope Powell’s England face Russia this evening in their second European Championship group game, and it is a “must-win” fixture according to the national coach after Friday’s 3-2 defeat by Spain.
At the Euro finals four years ago Powell’s side also lost the opening match, against Italy, but then beat Russia 3-2 in their second outing and went on to reach the final, where they were beaten by Germany. Now, following a poor display against Spain, they are preparing to face a Russian side that also lost their first match, 3-1 to group favourites France.
A second defeat tonight would almost certainly lead to England’s elimination from the tournament before they meet France, who they have not beaten in 13 matches since 1974, in their final group game, and Powell said: “I think that, realistically, we have to win the game if we want to stay in the competition. It’s a must-win match.”
Powell has spent the last two days trying to rebuild her team’s confidence after the pain of the Spain defeat. With several key players, among them the playmaker Kelly Smith, less than 100 per cent fit, she is likely to name an unchanged line-up despite Friday’s nervy, error-laden performance. The defeat was watched by a crowd of just 5,190 in the Linkoping Arena but a TV audience of 1.2m in England.
“When you come into a major tournament,” added Powell, “you’re expected to do well and with everybody rooting for you at home that’s a lot of pressure. The players looked quite nervous, and anxiety can sometimes be quite draining. It’s been a case of reminding players, ‘actually, you are good players, you went 11 games unbeaten before we came to Sweden’. It’s been about reinforcing those positive messages.
“The situation is obviously not ideal, losing the first game, but we’ve been here before. Russia were difficult in 2009 and I expect another tough match, but I’ve no doubt that everybody will give 110 per cent and if the players go out and play the way they can then I’ll be happy. If we don’t perform though, we’ll be in trouble.”