On a hot and humid afternoon at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama yesterday, A
On a hot and humid afternoon at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama yesterday, April Heinrich's World Champions demonstrated just why they are the team to beat when they defeated England 6-0...
Before the game Hope Powell told TheFA.com that in order to prepare for the 2005 European Champions, her young squad would need to test themselves against the best, with no competitive international qualifiers for the next two years. After a ruthless display by the USA which extended their unbeaten home record to twenty matches, the Three Lions found themselves blown apart by a devastating spell of four goals in thirteen minutes either side of half-time from Cindy Parlow.
England started the game confidently, retaining possession, and after a typically tigerish tackle from Sammy Britton in midfield, Karen Walker, pictured, hooked a ball over the bar to show that the visitors were not going to be just making up the numbers. With an average age of just 23 and with conditions on the pitch particularly energy sapping, it didn't take long however for the home side to get into their stride.
Although there is some debate as to the final venue of the 2003 World Cup Finals starting in July - due to the SARS virus in China - a number of players amongst the World Champions starting XI were looking to impress and cement their place in Heinrich's squad.
It was however the most famous female footballer in the world who created the first moment of panic in the England rearguard. After eleven minutes Mia Hamm turned Leanne Champ on the right of England's eighteen yards box, and on seeing the target, hit a first time shot that was bravely blocked by Doncaster Belles' Vicky Exley. On 19 minutes Sammy Britton was harshly penalised in the middle of the park for a challenge on Joy Fawcett that resulted in the Everton midfielder being shown the first yellow card, and suddenly the game sprang into life.
A beautiful reverse ball by Cindy Parlow found Hamm sprinting through the middle, and brought a superb covering tackle by Charlton's young captain Casey Stoney just outside the box. To the incredulity of Stoney, referee Kari Seitz awarded a penalty after Hamm tumbled over Stoney's trailing leg, which saw Joy Fawcett stride up to the spot.
With an expectant crowd waiting to cheer the first goal, Pauline Cope in the England goal pulled off a tremendous save to her left to parry the ball away, and one hoped that this moment would give England a new sense of hope.
However, you don't get to become World Champions without displaying a streak of ruthlessness and the American attacks started to become ever more frequent until, after half an hour, they achieved the breakthrough.
With Karen Walker lying prone on the half-way line and perhaps some of her team-mates expecting the ball to be kicked out of play, Shannon Macmillan made her way down the England left, unchecked to the by-line.
A simple pull-back found the ubiquitous Hamm, and she calmly side-footed home from six yards to give Cope no chance, scoring her fifth goal in four games against England.
After clearly finding the conditions to their liking, the Americans failed to ease up, and just when it seemed that Powell's Lions would go into the half-time interval just one goal down, Cindy Parlow entered the scene.
Playing on the right side of midfield for the first time in her 124-cap career, Parlow may have felt that she was being challenged by Heinrichs. Her response was emphatic on 42 minutes, when after a move involving first Brandi Chastain and then Hamm, the tall redhead from University College Atlanta arrived on time to crash her first and America’s second home from eight yards out.
On the stroke of half-time Parlow doubled her goals tally after a corner from Mia Hamm failed to be cleared by the England defence. As the ball bounced around in the six yard box, England 'keeper Cope pulled off a great save to claw the ball away from US captain Julie Fowdy, but could only look on hopelessly as Parlow headed the rebound back past her to see the half-time score: USA 3-0 England.
At half-time the World Champions brought on six substitutions, while England made just one change when Kristy Moore made way for Jody Handley.
On 48 minutes England won their first corner of the game from a Casey Stoney free-kick, but it was to prove the briefest of respites.
One of the second-half substitutions for the USA saw 30 year-old Tiffany Milbrett enter the scene, and immediately her experience from 187 international caps was visible. A delightful 50-yard diagonal ball from the back found Parlow on the left edge of the England 18-yard box, with still plenty to do. A quick twinkle of her feet created enough space beyond Leanne Champ to give herself just a merest sight of goal. With Cope unsighted by Mary Phillip, Parlow found the far right corner of the goal with a beautifully weighted curler, and suddenly there was more than daylight between the two sides.
Parlow in fact had only taken eight minutes to score her hat-trick, but clearly wasn't finished. Shortly after Champ, pictured, became the second England player to go into the book after a foul on Kristine Lilly, Parlow added her fourth when another corner failed to be cleared. Lilley fired the ball back across the six yard box, and after a number of deflections, Parlow drove the ball home via Rachel Unitt's boot to make the score 5-0 with still 35 minutes to go.
Three minutes later she left the field to great acclaim from the crowd of 12,102, and Kirsty Pealling and Amanda Barr entered the fray for England, replacing Leanne Champ and Karen Walker.
There was to be one more goal before the final whistle, and it was the best of the lot. In 96 internationals, Tiffany Roberts had only ever scored seven goals, and it is fair to assume she won't have hit many sweeter than the one she scored on Saturday. Striding forward from the centre of midfield on 68 minutes she moved to the edge of the England penalty area before unleashing a left footed howitzer into the top corner of the net that left Cope completely helpless.
On 73 minutes Kelly McDougall came on to earn her second cap replacing Rachel MacArthur and, ironically, the final quarter saw the biggest concerted period of play from England. Firstly Handley had a free-kick palmed over the bar from Siri Mullix in the US goal and then from the resultant corner her poachers instinct saw her get ahead of Kate Sorbero, leaving the young Belles midfielder with her head in her hands, as the ball ballooned off a US defender and over the bar, with Mullix beaten.
So, at the final whistle, England had suffered a heavy 6-0 defeat, but Hope Powell refused to be too downcast.
"As we anticipated, the heat sapped the energy of our players," Hope told TheFA.com. "But I can still take heart from some good individual performances.
"Pauline Cope stood up very well to what was almost constant pressure and Rachel Yankey's pace looked to unsettle the Americans at times, but against the World Champions we were just not strong enough player-for-player."
With eight players in the England squad today not having reached the milestone of 20 caps, against an American side that contained seven players with over 100 caps, it's clear that today's game is all part of an upward learning curve for the young Lions.
April Heinrichs, the USA Head Coach told TheFA.com: "Today's score was not indicative of England's performance. England are smart, competitive and are brought up on the culture of the game, which you can see from some of their tight, close passing.
"However, we have full-time professionals who are hungry to get on the World Cup squad in two months time, and perhaps the superior fitness and familiarity with the humidity eventually helped flatter us a little. "I am sure though that if The FA continue to put the resources behind women's football in England, the game there will go from strength to strength, and success will breed success."
England: Pauline Cope, Leanne Champ (sub Kirsty Pealling - 59mins), Rachel Unitt, Casey Stoney, Mary Phillip, Rachel McArthur (sub Kelly McDougall - 73 mins), Kristy Moore (sub Jody Handley - 45mins), Vicky Exley, Samantha Britton, Karen Walker (sub Amanda Barr - 59mins), Rachel Yankey
Report by Alex Stone at Legion Field Stadium, Birmingham, Alabama
TheFA.com will bring you more news ahead of England next game - the first of two friendly internationals - against Canada in Montreal at 7pm (local time) on Monday