Women's football: Back to earth but England still through to Euro 2013
England 3 Croatia 0
Thursday 20 September 2012
It was back to reality for England's Team GB Olympians as, seven weeks after thrilling a Wembley crowd of 70,584 in a 1-0 GB victory over Brazil at London 2012, Hope Powell's national side had to scrap for a 3-0 Women's Euro 2013 qualifying win against Croatia in front of just 5,821 spectators at Walsall's Banks's Stadium.
A Uefa-enforced 5pm kick-off and BBC's live TV broadcast conspired to restrict the crowd potential of what was a crucial qualifier, the last of the five-nation Group E to be played and a must-win for England as they started the evening two points behind the group leaders the Netherlands– the Dutch having already completed their fixtures.
Powell, who had also taken charge of Team GB, was philosophical about the attendance figure and her team's below-par performance as she celebrated reaching next summer's Euro finals in Sweden after goals by the midfielder Jill Scott, the striker Eni Aluko and the captain Casey Stoney had defeated the group's bottom team – who England had trounced 6-0 in Croatia.
"The kick-off time of 5pm didn't help in terms of filling the stadium," said Powell, "but we got really good support. The crowds we had supporting Team GB at the Olympics were fantastic and we've got to try to get those audiences to watch England, whose players made up 90 per cent of the GB squad. We have a job to do to market the game and get the message across that we produce a good product."
The product was not at its best at the Banks's Stadium but, against a team that has collected only a single qualifying point, it was good enough to not only win the game but also keep a seventh successive clean sheet in an undefeated qualifying campaign.
Powell had told her players before the game to beware the effects of a comedown from the euphoria that had surrounded their exploits at the London Games and she insisted: "The girls were totally focused after coming away from the Olympics.
"At times we moved the ball well, but when we stopped doing the things we said we'd do we put ourselves in trouble a bit. The result was the most important thing though, and I'm happy that we've qualified for another major tournament."
England will head to Sweden looking to improve on their runners-up spot at Euro 2009. They will need better performances than this even though their victory was comfortable enough after Scott had netted the 21st-minute opener. Aluko doubled the lead two minutes into the second half and Stoney completed the scoring 10 minutes from time.
England (4-2-3-1): Bardsley (Linkoping); A. Scott (Arsenal), Bradley (Lincoln), Stoney (Lincoln) (Rafferty (Chelsea) 87), Houghton (Arsenal); J. Scott (Everton), Asante (Gothenburg); Carney (Birmingham City), F. Williams (Everton); Yankey (Arsenal) (Duggan (Everton) 79); Aluko (Birmingham City). Substitutes not used Brown (Everton), Clarke (Lincoln), Susi (Chelsea), Bassett (Birmingham City), R. Williams (Birmingham City).
Croatia (4-1-4-1): Bacic; Cepernic (Lovna 76), Hercigonja Moulton, Scurich, Jelencic (Salek 68); Gaiser; Martic, Landeka, Joscak, Kolar; Sundov (Conjar 85). Substitutes not used Vrdolak, Bulut, Valusek.
Referee E Azzopardi (Malta).
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