Smith makes her mark
England 1 Switzerland 0
The England women's team this afternoon (Saturday) booked a play-off place for next year's European Championship thanks to a workmanlike victory over Switzerland at Bristol Rovers.
Sue Smith's 55th-minute goal gave England all three points but Hope Powell's side will count themselves lucky that the plucky Swiss, who are bottom of the qualifying group, did not make more of several gilt-edged scoring chances.
"We were edgy in the first half," admitted Powell after the game. "Knowing that we only had to get a draw to get into the play-offs probably meant that we did not have quite the intensity I wanted.
"On top of that it was a hot day, it's been a long season for a lot of the girls and the Swiss played above themselves."
For the first 45 minutes, England did exactly the opposite, playing well beneath themselves. Julie Fletcher, playing on the right of England's back three, had an error-strewn first half and even the normally dependable Gillian Coultard, at sweeper, was guilty of over-elaborating and not making quicker use of the ball.
It was Coultard's fluffed overhead kick which let the Switzerland for their first scoring chance from open play. Sandra de Pol seized on the England skipper's miskick but shot well wide of Cope's right-hand post with only the keeper to beat.
With Bea Mettler and Sommer dominating in midfield, it was Switzerland who looked most likely to break the deadlock, something they nearly did on 24 minutes when Anouk Macheret broke down the left and struck a close-range shot which Cope somehow managed to push onto the post.
In terms of attacks, all England had to show for was a couple of long-range efforts from the hard-running Marianne Spacey and Karen Burke.
Poor England marking nearly let in Switzerland in the dying minutes of the first half. Central defender Mirjam Berz was allowed a free header from De Pol's cross, only to send the ball well over the bar. Moments late, Macheret, latching onto Mettler's pass, shot wildly over from 10 yards out.
With Powell instructing the players at half-time to be more direct and make more use of the wing-backs, England started the second half in determined mood. On 50 minutes, Karen Walker was denied a goal when her powerful header was somehow palmed away by the diving Swiss keeper.
Five minutes later, England went ahead. Burke's first-time shot was blocked by the keeper's feet and as the ball broke loose Smith pounced to drill an eight-yard shot high into the roof of the net.
The goal settled England and the central midfield trio of Karen Burke, Becky Easton and Danielle Murphy began to dominate proceedings. The Swiss were reduced to long-range efforts which did not trouble Cope, while England could have added to their tally had substitute Rachel Yankey not blazed over in the dying minutes.
England: Pauline Cope (Croydon), Maureen Marley (Everton), Gillian Coultard (Doncaster Belles), Julie Fletcher (Croydon), Karen Burke (Everton), Becky Easton (Everton), Samantha Britton (Everton), Danielle Murphy (University of Florida), Sue Smith (Tranmere Rovers), Karen Walker (Doncaster Belles), Marianne Spacey (Arsenal)
Substitutes: Vicky Exley (Doncaster Belles) for Easton, 68 mins; Katie Chapman (Millwall Lionesses) for Britton, 73 mins; Rachel Yankey (Arsenal) for Walker, 80 mins.
Att: 3, 497