England held in opener
Monday, 27 June, 2011
Frustrating night for Hope Powell's side in first World Cup game.
By Glenn Lavery in Wolfsburg
England were held to a 1-1 draw by Mexico in their opening match of the FIFA Women's World Cup.
Fara Williams headed Hope Powell's side into a hitherto deserved lead on 21 minutes, but, against the run of play, a marvellous long distance strike from Monica Ocampo levelled matters just past the half-hour mark.
Mexico had been forced on the back foot for the first 30 minutes, but grew into game after their equaliser, though they didn't cause England too many problems. Eniola Aluko had a couple of chances to win the game in a stop-start second half, but both teams left Wolfsburg with a point apiece, leaving them tied for second place in Group B, as Japan beat New Zealand 2-1 earlier in the day.
After coming through an unbeaten, eight game qualifying campaign, a two-legged play-off victory over Switzerland late last year and two impressive friendly wins over USA and Sweden, the waiting finally came to an end when Mexico's Maribel Dominguez and Dinora Garza got England's opening World Cup group game underway in a hot and humid Arena Im Allerpark.
England looked extremely assured in the early exchanges, constructing confident multiple-pass moves, but skipper Faye White had to be on her guard to prevent Dominguez from doing any damage in the fourth minute. The prolific forward (67 goals in 90 internationals) was played into the England box by Stephany Mayor, but White saved the day with a block tackle.
Powell's charges immediately recovered their composure, though, and returned to their passing game straight away. Off target shots from Carney, Williams and Kelly Smith suggested a goal was coming and it duly arrived in the 21st minute - and despite England's good play, it actually came from a set piece.
Karen Carney, who impressed as a substitute last time out against Sweden, swung over a corner from the right and the diminutive Williams rose above everyone to power her header high into the net from about 13 yards out. It was Williams who also scored England's opening goal at Euro 2009.
It was the least England had deserved for all their positivity and it might have got even better just a couple of minutes later, only for 16-year-old Cecilia Santiago to get down well at her near post to deny Rachel Yankey from scoring a quick-fire second.
The goalscorer was at the heart of everything and she attempted to double both her own tally and the Three Lions' lead with an impudent chip, though Santiago was equal to it and managed to hold onto the ball.
Then, from nowhere, Mexico equalised with an early contender for goal of the tournament. A rare Mexican attack led to the ball finding itself at the feet of Ocampo on the inside left channel. She cut inside past Alex Scott and unleashed an incredible 30-yarder which flew past Karen Bardsley and into the net.
This goal lifted Leonardo Cuellar's side, and the large coningent of Mexican fans inside the ground and they soon began to enjoy more of the ball, although they failed to properly threaten their opponents again before the break.
Jill Scott was adjudged to have handled the ball just four minutes after the restart and Dominguez cracked the subsequent free-kick narrowly wide of Bardsley's right-hand upright. England probably should have regained the lead just moments later. Yankey delivered a left-wing cross to the far post which Carney headed back across goal. Santiago tipped the ball into the middle of the six-yard box where Aluko was lurking, but the 24-year-old completely missed her kick and the chance was gone.
Mayor could count herself lucky not to have been booked for a nasty sliding tackle on Jill Scott, but then it was an England player who rode her luck, as Rachel Unitt collided with Alina Garciamendez inside the box. Referee Silvia Reyes adopted a lenient stance for both incidents.
By now, Mexico had seized the initiative but it was Aluko who had the next presentable opportunity in front of goal. Some neat approach play allowed Smith to feed the Sky Blue forward on the edge of the box, but her left-foot shot drifted wide. The game had lost its first-half rhythm and an injury to Dominguez even allowed the crowd time to start up a well-received Mexican wave.
Neither goalkeeper was over-worked in the second 45, but with 12 minutes remaining, Santiago again showed why one so young was handed a starting place in a World Cup opener. Yankey clipped an in-swinging free-kick into the box and despite being under pressure from three England players, Santiago still managed to claw the ball to safety.
Smith then fired a free-kick over the bar and that proved to be the last of England's opportunities as Mexico finished strongly. Ocampo fired a free-kick just wide of the post, before they forced a string of corners in their chase for a winner.
The closest they came was through Mayor, whose shot from inside the box looked destined for the top corner until substitute Ellen White bravely flung herself in front of goal to head clear the danger and ensure an opening game point for England.
Next up is New Zealand in Dresden on Friday.