England hit wall in effort to reach China finals

France Women 1 England Women 0 <i>France win 2-0 on aggregate</i>
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The Independent Online

A second successive failure to reach the finals of the women's World Cup has left England facing more than two and a half years without any competitive football. As hosts of the 2005 women's European Championship finals they will gain automatic entry, but the challenge in the absence of either qualifying or tournament competition will be to build a team capable of progressing further than the group stage at which they exited Euro 2001.

A second successive failure to reach the finals of the women's World Cup has left England facing more than two and a half years without any competitive football. As hosts of the 2005 women's European Championship finals they will gain automatic entry, but the challenge in the absence of either qualifying or tournament competition will be to build a team capable of progressing further than the group stage at which they exited Euro 2001.

Their sometimes impressive, sometimes unconvincing campaign to reach China 2003 finally ended here at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, scene of the 1998 World Cup penalty shoot-out defeat by Argentina of Glenn Hoddle's England.

Hope Powell's women, weakened by the loss of key players through the spine of the team, started brightly enough in front of the biggest crowd to watch a women's international in France. But after the captain, Karen Walker, making her 80th England appearance, had scuffed wide an 18th-minute chance the French began to take control.

Leading from Marinette Pichon's first-leg goal, they went close to extending their aggregate advantage through both Pichon and Sonia Bompastor, the latter's 39th-minute free-kick striking the far post.

The coup de grâce arrived nine minutes into the second half, Corinne Diacre driving a 20-yard shot into the corner of the net after the goalkeeper Pauline Cope had punched clear a deflected shot by Stéphanie Mugneret. Wasteful finishing cost the home nation further goals, but their victory was more comprehensive than the one-goal margin suggests.

"There's disappointment and some tears," said Powell, "especially with the realisation that we should have done better in the first leg. But the girls have been tremendous over the past couple of years. We've improved as a team and I think we'll keep improving.

"The good thing now is that we qualify for Euro 2005 without kicking a ball. That gives us a chance to experiment and try players. They need to experience the environment of senior international football and we will look to play against the strongest opposition there is leading up to Euro 2005."

FRANCE (4-4-1-1): Marty; Viquier, Diacre, Riera, Provost; Kramo (Sykora, 78), Woock, Soubeyrand, Bompastor; Mugneret ( Georges, 90); Pichon. Substitutes not used: M'Barek, Herbert, Lecoufle, Deville, Lattaf.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Cope (Charlton Athletic); McArthur (Fulham), Stoney (Charlton), Phillip, Unitt; Moore (all Fulham), Britton (Leeds United), Williams (Charlton), Yankey (Fulham); Barr (Charlton), Walker (Doncaster Belles). Substitutes used: Exley (Doncaster Belles) 84 for Williams, Smith (Leeds) 75 for Yankey, Burke (Leeds) 56 for Barr. Substitutes not used: Brown (University of Pittsburgh), Hunt (Doncaster Belles), Champ (Arsenal), Handley (Doncaster Belles).

Referee: N Petignat (Swit).

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