It wasn’t England’s best performance, but a 3-0 win against their Euro 2013 qualifying group’s bottom team – who in March they had hammered 6-0 away – was enough for Hope Powell’s team to clinch a place at the finals in Sweden.
England 3-0 Croatia
Euro 2013 qualifier
Walsall FC 19 September 2012
By Tony Leighton
Goals from midfielder Jill Scott, striker Eni Aluko and captain Casey Stoney gave England what in the end was a comfortable victory that had the bonus of a seventh successive clean sheet in an undefeated qualifying campaign.
It looked at times, particularly early on in the game, that England’s Team GB Olympians were suffering from a hangover from their London 2012 heroics in front of massive crowds including 70,000-plus for the 1-0 win against Brazil at Wembley.
But National Coach Powell insisted: “The girls were totally focused after coming away from the Olympics. They’ve trained really well this week and the aim was to transfer the quality we showed in training into the match
“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.”
Powell’s team were never in danger of not winning, though they had to battle hard at times to get the better of a Croatian team that were far more impressive than the side that crumbled on their home turf against England.
The game opened at a frantic pace and the home side almost went ahead after just seven minutes, right winger Karen Carney curling in a cross-shot that was brilliantly saved by the diving Doris Bacic.
The opening goal should have arrived 13 minutes later, but Rachel Yankey fluffed the chance to celebrate her record making 120th England appearance in style as she ballooned a 15 yard shot over the bar after being sent clear by Aluko.
Within 60 seconds, however, the breakthrough was made. Aluko’s low shot was blocked by Bacic, but Scott forced home the rebound to ease any nerves that may have been building amongst Powell’s team.
England continued to produce some neat build-up play but were finding it difficult to break through Croatia’s packed defence, though Yankey again wasted a good opportunity when she sent a free header wide from Carney’s 36th minute cross.
The winger then made amends two minutes into the second half, threading a through-ball to Aluko for the striker to curl a 12 yard shot in off the post for the second goal. And it was almost three five minutes later as Carney’s cross-shot struck the far post.
Right back Alex Scott and left back Steph Houghton had goalbound efforts superbly saved by Bacic before central defender Stoney made sure of victory with a low 15 yard drive 10 minutes from time.
The enthusiastic Walsall crowd gave the England players a loudly cheering send-off, though the attendance figure of 5,821 was only a fraction of the numbers attracted to the Olympics by Team GB.
A Uefa-enforced 5pm kick-off and the BBC’s live TV coverage of the game played their part in restricting the crowd figure, and Powell was pleased enough with the attendance as she looked to further enhance the profile of the women’s game.
“The kick-off time of 5 o’clock didn’t help in terms of filling the stadium,” said the National Coach, “but we got really good support. The crowds we had supporting Team GB at the Olympics were fantastic.
“Now 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 that’s worth watching.”
(Images: Gavin Ellis/www.tgsphotos.co.uk)
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.
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