Play-offs in sight as Powell savours revenge

Netherlands women 1 England women 4
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The Independent Football

Only a sequence of highly unlikely results will prevent England from qualifying for a play-off to reach next year's Women's World Cup finals, after a second successive convincing group victory here.

A month after beating Portugal 3-0, Hope Powell's team extinguished Dutch qualifying chances and moved four points clear of the Portuguese in the race for the runners-up spot in their four-nation group.

Portugal have two games remaining while England have only one, against the runaway group leaders Germany in May. However, Portugal also have to play the Germans, who last October beat them 9-0 with an under-strength team.

So Saturday night's result in the Dutch capital, where four different players scored for England, bodes well. "I'm delighted for the players," said the coach Powell. "They rose to the challenge and the three points have given us the best possible chance of reaching the play-offs. Now we can relax a little, especially if Portugal's result against Germany next month goes our way."

In the meantime Powell's players can bask in the glory of a victory which brought revenge for the 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands which dashed England's qualifying hopes for the 1999 World Cup finals.

Karen Walker was the England scorer on that night of disappointment, so it was fitting that the Doncaster Belles striker – now her country's captain – should hit the last-minute goal which finally did for the Dutch on Saturday.

Walker was perhaps lucky, however, to still be on the pitch after escaping with a caution when she could have been sent off for a 42nd-minute push in the face of the defender Hanneke Mensink.

England were two goals ahead and cruising at that stage, Fulham's Katie Chapman having headed her first international goal in the 17th minute before the Doncaster Belles winger Karen Burke fired in the second seven minutes later.

But the Dutch reduced the deficit through Annemieke Griffioen 10 minutes into the second half and England looked decidedly shaky until the game's pivotal moment arrived in the 61st minute.

Daphne Koster, booked for a first-half challenge on Kelly Smith, was dismissed for collecting a second caution following an incident that could have seen Smith herself sent off for a two-handed shove on her Dutch marker.

Like Walker, however, Smith was shown only the yellow card – and 12 minutes later England's United States-based striker effectively decided the game with a delightfully lobbed goal from a tight angle.

NETHERLANDS (4-1-2-3): Van Pelt (WFC); Van der Laan (Ter Leede), Mensink (Saestum), Louwaars (Saestum), Burger (Ter Leede); Koster (Ter Leede); Goudeuna (Saestum), Griffioen (Saestum); Noom (Ter Leede), Delies (Orange Nassau), S Smith (Saestum) Substitutes: Bito (Wartburgia) for S Smith, 74.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Cope (Charlton); Stoney (Arsenal), White (Arsenal), Chapman (Fulham), Unitt (Fulham); Burke (Doncaster Belles), Britton (Leeds Utd), Exley (Doncaster Belles), Yankey (Fulham); Walker (Doncaster Belles), K Smith (Philadelphia Charge). Substitutes: Phillip (Fulham) for White, 52; Williams (Charlton) for Yankey, 71); Barr (Everton) for K Smith, 80.

Referee: A Tvarijonaite (Lithuania).