After a poor first half against the Czechs, Hope Powell was delighted with her England team's recovery.
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After a classic ‘game of two halves’ National Coach Hope Powell was delighted that her team had recovered from a "flat, slow, lethargic’ first period to convincingly beat the Czech Republic 4-1 and set themselves up perfectly for the UEFA European Women’s Championship finals.
Ten days ahead of their opening Women’s Euro 2005 match, against Finland at the City of Manchester Stadium, England started hesitantly as they took on the Czechs at Walsall FC’s Bescot Stadium and found themselves a goal down at the interval.
But, inspired in part by the introduction of substitutes Kelly Smith, Eni Aluko and Karen Carney, England were a totally different proposition after the break and four goals - two from Walsall girl Rachel Unitt and one apiece by Smith and Aluko - in a 13-minute spell ensured a ninth win in ten matches for Powell’s team.
That was a great way to complete the build-up programme of friendly matches for the Euro tournament, though at half-time the National Coach was not feeling that way. "We were flat, slow, lethargic - it was ridiculous!" said Powell as she reflected on her team’s performance in the opening 45 minutes.
"The players knew themselves but couldn’t work it out," added the coach. "It was very bizarre and I was thinking ‘hurry up half-time,’ because we needed that break to set us back on track."
Whatever it was that Powell said in her half-time team talk, it certainly worked - and the Coach refuted suggestions that it was changing the team personnel, and in particular sending on Arsenal striker Kelly Smith, that brought about the reversal of fortunes.
"Had we kept the same team on in the second half," said Powell, "they would have raised their game. Kelly is a fantastic player and will inject confidence, but it’s about the squad. We’re going into a hard tournament and as long as we’ve got depth in the squad and we can change things by bringing on players who can do things, I’m happy with that."
Smith, whose spectacular goal from 40 yards gave England the lead after Unitt had hit the equaliser, concurred with Powell. The star striker, acknowledged as one of the world’s finest players, is back in action after a long spell of injury problems and her presence should boost England’s hopes in the Euro tournament.
But she said: "It’s not all about me, it’s about a squad of 20 and tonight we were really happy with our second half performance. Everybody’s level of play rose, but of course it was nice for me to come on and have another 45 minutes.
"I’ve been lacking in confidence because of the injuries I’ve had and not playing matches, so to come on and score a goal like that and lift the team was tremendous. I felt more like my old self, sharper and more comfortable on the ball, and I’m delighted."
Left back Unitt, who on a ground just two miles from her home tripled her international goal tally after scoring only once in her previous 43 England appearances, paid tribute to Smith while savouring her double strike in front of family and friends.
"Kelly had a great game," said Unitt. "When she’s got the ball at her feet and running at defenders they don’t know what to do. You could say she changed the game, but it wasn’t just down to one player it was a whole team thing.
"We were second to every ball in the first half, we weren’t switched on, but it was a different game in the second half. We upped the tempo and in the end gave ourselves another little boost for our confidence going into the Euros.
"For me it was really nice to play for England in my home town and even better to score two goals. I’m up there for a lot of the set pieces and never seem to get on the end of them, but tonight I was in the right place at the right time."
England’s excellent record ahead of the Women’s Euro 2005 has not only raised confidence but also raised the level of expectation among fans eagerly awaiting the start of the tournament on Sunday 05 June.
That scenario does not faze National Coach Powell, however. "Expectation levels are no concern for me," she said. "We just have to focus on what’s ahead of us and that’s what we’ll do. We have high expectations of ourselves, so why should it be different for everybody else?"