A first half goal by Charlton midfielder Fara Williams gave England a winning end to the season against Iceland.
England 1-0 Iceland
London Road, Peterborough
Friday, 14 May 2004
A first half goal by Charlton Athletic midfielder Fara Williams gave England a winning end to the season as Hope Powell’s team took on one of the sides they could meet at next year’s European Championships finals.
Iceland, who are progressing well in their Euro 2005 qualifying group, provided a good test but only produced a real goal threat after the home side had made wholesale changes at half-time.
Powell had to make a mass of substitutions, most of them due to Arsenal and Fulham players being required for Saturday’s FA Nationwide Women’s Premier League title decider between the two clubs, and it was perhaps unfair in the circumstances to expect a fluent 90 minute performance by England.
But the National Coach was nevertheless critical of her team, particularly with their finishing following her call for more sharpness in front of goal after their below par display in the 3-0 defeat by Nigeria last month.
Powell said: "We did well in parts of the game but not so well in others, and we should certainly have had more than one goal. Our finishing still isn’t good enough and we have to work on it.
"To be fair, Iceland made it difficult for us – they had a back line of nine in the first half and we got frustrated – but they came at us in the second half and were unlucky not to equalise.
"At the end of a long season though, there were some tired legs out there and it was good to finish with a win. We’ve done well in the last few games, Nigeria apart, and I feel we’reheading in the right direction for Euro 2005."
Powell had been forced into one change from the side which lost to Nigeria, captain Faye White pulling out with a knee injury and her Arsenal colleague Kirsty Pealling taking over in defence.
The coach made one other change to the starting line-up, Charlton Athletic striker Amanda Barr coming back into the starting line-up in place of Jody Handley.
The latter change meant a switch from the striking role into a wide right berth for Kristy Moore, who in a brisk start by England had a first minute shot deflected for a corner.
Despite continuing to produce the more creative football, however, the home side took until midway through the first half to take control.
They might have gone ahead in the 23rd minute, when Kelly Smith’s neat through-ball set Barr free, but the striker saw her 18 yard shot saved by the diving Thora Helgadottir.
Two minutes later Moore set up midfielder Katie Chapman up for a 20 yard effort that Helgadottir saved under the bar.
The keeper then had to go full length to make a fingertip save from Moore’s 39th minute drive, but she was finally beaten three minutes before the interval.
Kelly Smith went on a tremendous run along the bye-line to cut the ball back for Williams to turn a low 12 yard shot just inside the far post.
With seven changes made to the line-up at the break England found it difficult to pick up the impetus they had gained during the latter stages of the first half, though substitute Vicky Exley put a good chance wide when Helgadottir spilled Williams’ 57th minute free-kick.
By then goalkeeper Leanne Hall had already been forced into a goal line save from striker Margret Vidarsdottir, and the Fulham keeper followed that with two crucial stops as Iceland threatened to take control.
First Hall deflected a Holmfridur Magnusdottir shot past the post when the winger had broken clear, then she did well to block Vidarsdottir’s powerful 67th minute drive.
England responded well, Exley heading Williams’ 69th minute free-kick just wide and substitute Handley going close two minutes later from sub Sue Smith’s cross.
Kelly Smith drove an 18 yard effort just over the bar in the 84th minute and, as England looked for a victory-clinching goal, substitute Carmaine Walker had an excellent 87th minute volley blocked by Helgadottir.
But Walker fluffed the chance to score her first goal for England in stoppage time, when she shot wide after Kelly Smith’s pass had put her in the clear.
The outstanding Kelly Smith, who took over as captain in the second half following Mary Phillip’s substitution, said: "It was an honour to captain England for the first time and I really enjoyed it.
"We weren’t clinical enough with our finishing, though – we’re coming on as a team but we’ll have to improve in front of goal if we’re going to make an impact at Euro 2005."
England (4-5-1): Hall (Fulham); Pealling (Arsenal) (Bassett (Birmingham City) HT), Stoney (Charlton Athletic), Phillip (Fulham) (Asante (Arsenal) HT), Unitt (Fulham) (Champ (Arsenal) HT); Moore (Fløya) (Handley (Doncaster Rovers Belles) HT), Chapman (Fulham) (Exley (Doncaster Rovers Belles) HT), Williams (Charlton Athletic), K. Smith (New Jersey Wildcats), Yankey (Fulham) (S. Smith (Leeds United) HT); Barr (Charlton Athletic), (Walker (Charlton Athletic) HT).
Substitutes: Wayne (Bristol Rovers), Burke (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Maggs (Arsenal).
Iceland (4-4-2): Helgadottir; Andresdottir (M. Sigurdardottir HT), Gudrun Gunnarsdottir, Hrndriksdottir, Thordardottir; E. Sigurdardottir, Gardarsdottir (Steffansdottir 79), Olafsdottir, Magnusdottir (Logadottir 84); Faerseth, Vidarsdottir.
Substitutes: Gudbjorg Gunnarsdottir, Larusdottir