Smith puts England back in the hunt

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The Independent Football

England revived their World Cup qualification hopes as a superb performance by America-based striker Kelly Smith inspired Hope Powell's team to their first competitive victory in 15 months.

The Philadelphia Charge striker, ranked among the world's finest female footballers, had played only two competitive matches in six months yet produced a dazzling, non-stop 90-minute performance that she capped with two second-half goals.

The victory took England ahead of Portugal into second place in their four-nation qualifying group and, after disappointing results in their first three matches, they are now favourites to finish as runners-up to Germany. That would give them a play-off chance to qualify for the 2003 finals, to be played in China, and on the back of yesterday's performance hopes will be high that they can achieve their aim.

Watched by a record crowd for an England international of 8,821, Powell's side produced their finest display since beating the Ukraine in November 2000 to qualify for Euro 2001. Against a decidedly ordinary Portuguese team, however, they showed some customary nervousness at the back in the early stages.

But at the other end they were causing the Portuguese defence all sorts of problems, most of them emanating from the clever play of Smith. The former Arsenal striker was showing no sign of ring-rust despite her long lay-off from action following the end of the American professional league season in August.

It was a foul on Smith just outside the penalty area that led to the opening goal after 20 minutes, curled in direct from the free-kick by 18-year-old midfielder Fara Williams, who was making her first senior international start.

Five minutes later Smith tricked her way past two defenders before dragging a shot wide of the near post, and a further two minutes on the striker had a stabbed close-range effort cleared off the line by Be.

Smith increased England's lead in the 58th minute, swerving around three challenges before sliding a 10-yard shot just inside the near post. And it was the 23-year-old who added the killer touch on the hour when she met Williams' deep cross to volley the ball back across goalkeeper Luisa and into the far corner of the net.

Sammy Britton and Williams went close to increasing England's lead, but a comfortable victory was already in their hands.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Cope (Charlton); Pealling (Arsenal), White (Arsenal), Chapman (Fulham), Unitt (Fulham); Burke (Doncaster), Williams (Charlton), Britton (Leeds), Yankey (Fulham); Walker (Doncaster), Smith (Philadelphia). Substitute: Stoney (Arsenal) for White, 90;

PORTUGAL (1-4-2-3): Luisa (Benfica); Be (SU 1 Dezembro); Carla Monteiro (Boavista), Ana Rita (SU 1 Dezembro), Monica (Gatoes); Olivia (Boavista); Paula Cristina (Gatoes), Maria Joao Xavier (SU 1 Dezembro); Patricia (Benfica), Carla Couto (SU 1 Dezembro), Sonia (Gatoes). Substitutes: Sandra Silva (Boavista) for Xavier, 66; Mesquita (Gatoes) for Sonia, 87.

Referee: A Hanninen (Finland).