Hockey: England aim for the title

NOTHING SHORT of the gold medal should satisfy England in Prague this weekend in the Women's Under-21 European Indoor Championship. With Germany, Spain and the Dutch not contesting the event, England, who in the previous three competitions have second twice and third, must start as favourites to reach Sunday's final, where they would expect to meet the host nation.

It is, however, worrying that France, who finished in bottom place in 1997, beat England, playing as Manchester, 6-3 in the World Cities Tournament in Perth last weekend. The French will provide the opposition for England's second game this afternoon. England play Slovakia this morning in their opening game and complete the pool programme tomorrow morning against Belarus.

England will rely heavily on the captain, Clifton's Lisa Wooding, to lead by example along with their three full internationals: Isabel Palmer, Helen Richardson and Kate Walsh.

In the newly introduced Premier Indoor League top four play-offs at Crystal Palace, spare a thought for Hightown, who finished top of the League but now have to play off for a spot in Europe next year without Walsh, Annalisa Bishop and Kate Hendrick - all with the Under-21s in Prague.

Hightown's leading scorer Tina Cullen, while expressing confidence that her side will win the play-offs and return to Europe, expressed her disappointment at the timing of the event. "As a club we are being penalised for bringing on youngsters but we are quietly confident," she said.

With Cullen and Denise Marston-Smith in devastating form in front of goal they may once again be able to out-gun Slough, Chelmsford and Bracknell. Karen Brown, a veteran of so many indoor battles, will be missing from the Slough line-up.