Friday, 28 August, 2009
England showed great character to get their Euro campaign up and running.
Stuart Mawhinney in Helsinki
England came from two goals down against Russia to secure a thrilling win in Helsinki and keep their Euro 2009 dreams alive.
Having lost to Italy on Tuesday, it was crucial not to lose this game but they got off to the worst possible start, trailing by two goals after 22 minutes.
England hit back in style though, as goals from Karen Carney, Eniola Aluko and a thunderous 40-yard volley from player of the match Kelly Smith gave them victory.
Defeat to Italy hurt the players, and with their pride wounded England provided the fitting response to defeat with a decisive display in their second game of Euro 2009.
Smith returned to the starting eleven, while the suspended Casey Stoney missed out with Rachel Unitt taking her place. Lindsay Johnson also replaced Anita Asante alongside Faye White at the heart of the defence.
Russia began the game in top gear though with Savchenkova hitting a terrific volley after little more than 60 seconds, Rachel Brown tipping the ball over the bar for an early corner that would result in the opening goal. The cross was driven hard and true and Ksenia Tsybutovich met the ball first to open the scoring for Russia.
As England failed to settle into their defensive rhythym in the opening exchanges, Savchenkova flashed a left-footed effort wide of the near post when it seemed harder to miss the target.
Kelly Smith sparked England's revival with ten minutes on the clock as the England forward drove a low left-footed effort bound for the bottom corner. Kochneva in the Russian goal was equal to the effort, but it began a period of dominance for the Three Lions.
Two minutes later White hit the crossbar with a trademark header, and Russia were fortunate to see the rebound loop away to safety.
Aluko also saw two dangerous crosses sail through to the relief of the Russian defence, but just when England looked to be taking hold of the match they were two goals behind.
Olga Kurochkina doubled the lead after 23 minutes, latching on to a fine through pass and narrowly beating Brown to the ball before lifting over the onrushing 'keeper.
It was a bitter blow for Hope Powell's team, who were acutely aware that defeat here would spell the end of their Euro 2009 campaign.
Thoughts of defeat were put to the back of the players' minds though, as within a minute England were back in the game with a terrific finish from Karen Carney to mark her 50th cap with a bang.
Katie Chapman carried the ball forward before releasing Carney into the area and the winger beat two defenders before driving the ball into the far corner with her left foot.
Eight minutes later England were level as Aluko drove the ball through the legs of the Russian 'keeper after more fine work from Carney.
England did not have it all their own way as Russia fired a warning shot from distance that Brown just tipped round the post. The Russia captain Skotnikova fired the ball from more than 25 yards, and though it took Brown by surprise she did well to keep the ball out.
Three minutes before half time and England took the lead with an incredible effort from all of 40 yards out. Spotting the 'keeper off her line, Kelly Smith chested the ball before half-volleying into the net to complete a memorable half-time turnaround with what was the goal of the tournament so far.
Both teams returned from the interval in flying form as if there had been no interruption to proceedings. Russia went close on three separate occasions with long range efforts that tested Brown, before they began to open up England's defence.
Savchenkova was inches away from a terrific equaliser eight minutes into the second period as Russia's Elena Morozova continued her fine form down the right flank.
Morozova found space outside of Rachel Unitt and cut the ball back superbly to Savchenkova, but fortunately for England it went wide of the post. England created chances of their own as Kelly Smith and Fara Williams both shot wide from distance.
Jess Clarke replaced her Leeds Carnegie teammate Sue Smith with a quarter of the game remaining as England looked to hit Russia on the counter with pace and precision and as the game entered a nervous final 15 minutes there were chances for Russia to restore parity, and for England to extend their lead.
Chapman was in superb form as the midfield enforcer, while Clarke was within a whisker of putting the game beyond Russia. Carney supplied the cross from the left that evaded Williams, only for Clarke to steal in at the far post but miss the target.
Russia won a free-kick in dangerous territory with five minutes left, but Faye White bravely blocked and England were on the attack again.
This time it was Aluko who popped up at the back post, and while she connected well on the volley the ball sailed over the crossbar.
The final minutes were nerve-wrenching for England as they held on for a crucial win.
England now face Sweden in their third and final group game on Monday night in Turku.