Anita Asante scores her first England goal as Hope Powell's team triumph over highly-ranked Norway.
England 1-0 Norway
Barnsley FC, Oakwell
7.45pm, 6 May 2005
Anita Asante’s first international goal gave England their first ever win against Norway as Hope Powell’s team continued their build-up to the Women’s Euro 2005 in impressive style.
Arsenal midfielder Asante, replacing the injured Katie Chapman and making only her second start for the senior team, scored in the 34th minute to stretch England’s recent run to eight wins in nine matches.
Player of the match Jo Fletcher, the Birmingham City goalkeeper, had to make three crucial saves - but England’s victory was nevertheless deserved against a side they had failed to beat in 12 previous attempts and who sit 11 places higher than themselves at third in FIFA’s world rankings.
National Coach Powell, enjoying the best run of results in her seven years at the helm, was naturally delighted with her team as she prepared to name the 20-player squad for the Women’s Euro 2005 ahead of 26 May’s final build-up match against the Czech Republic.
But she also sounded a warning note as England enter the closing stages of preparation for their first competitive action in two and a half years when the Euro finals kick off at the City of Manchester Stadium on Sunday 05 June.
“I was very pleased tonight,” said Powell. “It was a really tough game and we struggled to cope with their pace at times in the first half, but we got better as the game went on.
“In the second half we got the bit between our teeth and did really well. Jo (Fletcher) in particular was outstanding, but Faye White was also absolutely magnificent and collectively it was a good performance.
“I knew the players had it in them and they’ve shown tonight they can do it. Everybody was elated at the end of the game - but our good run counts for nothing when we get to the tournament and the players are under no illusions about that.”
Powell’s players showed for much of the 90 minutes that they have the capabilities to compete with the best sides in the world, though after a bright start in which striker Amanda Barr went close to scoring the Norwegians took control midway through the first half.
As the visitors pushed for an opening goal Fletcher had to make two splendid saves in quick succession. First she rose to tip a good 25 yard effort by midfielder Solveig Gulbrandsen on to the crossbar, then she dived full length to push an angled 31st minute shot by striker Lise Klavness past the far post.
England rode the pressure well, however, and they pushed forward to break the deadlock through good work by 17 year-old Birmingham winger Karen Carney – like Asante making only her second senior start.
Midfielder Fara Williams found Carney on the right and although the youngster saw her low shot blocked after tricking her way past central defender Marit Christensen, Asante forced the loose ball into the net.
The lead was almost doubled eight minutes into the second half, when captain White headed inches wide of the far post from a curling free-kick by left winger Rachel Yankey.
The confidence in Powell’s team was visibly growing by now and in the 65th minute Norway goalkeeper Bente Nordby had to move smartly to keep out a well struck 20 yard drive by Williams after Alex Scott and Asante had combined to set up the opening.
Nordby did even better five minutes later, flinging herself to her left to turn a fine long range strike by Barr past the far post.
In the 73rd minute Arsenal striker Kelly Smith, her recovery from a foot injury complete, made her return to international duty as substitute for Wolves midfielder Emily Westwood and was soon in the thick of the action, driving a 25 yard shot narrowly wide of the far post.
Three minutes from time Smith went desperately close to wrapping up victory, curling in a cross which flew over Nordby but struck the face of the crossbar.
Victory looked assured as play went beyond 90 minutes but, in the third minute of stoppage time, Fletcher had to pull off the save of the match to prevent an equaliser.
As left back Siri Nordby’s deep free-kick dropped into the penalty box the ball deflected off central defender White and flew towards the top corner of the net – but somehow Fletcher managed to get a hand on the ball to turn it on to the top of the bar.
“Don’t ask me how I made that save,” said Fletcher. “I just saw the ball bounce around the six yard line and instinctively went for it.”
At the other end Asante had similarly gone instinctively for the ball in the six yard box to hit the match-winner, but she was as pleased with the fact that she saw 90 minutes of action as she was with her goal.
“It was a great experience to start a match like this,” said the 20 year-old midfielder. “It’s different to going on as substitute, you have to prepare yourself mentally for a full 90 minutes and I felt I did that – and to score the winning goal was just great.”
Powell will now address the tasks of selecting her Women’s Euro 2005 squad and putting her players through the final few weeks of preparation for the finals.
“The fact that we’ve had so long with a competitive match has been crucial for us,” said the national Coach. “It’s meant we’ve had time to do a lot of stuff tactically and play a lot of younger players without the pressures of qualifying for the tournament.
“After the way that players have performed in our closed-doors match against Norway as well as in tonight’s game, and there have been exceptional performances in both, I’ve still got some selection problems - but they’re nice problems.
“The girls who don’t make the squad are obviously going to be disappointed, but unfortunately that’s the way it is – I can only name 20 players.”
England: Fletcher (Birmingham City); Scott (Birmingham City), White (Arsenal), Phillip (Arsenal), Unitt (Everton); Williams (Everton), Westwood (Wolves) (sub Kelly Smith (Arsenal) 73), Asante (Arsenal); Carney (Birmingham City) (sub Stoney (Charlton Athletic) 59), Barr (Birmingham City), Yankey (Birmingham City).
Norway: B. Nordby; Paulsen (Wahlin 73), Folstad, Christensen, S. Nordby; Gulbrandsen, Ronning (Stenslound 69), Lehn (Knutson 73), Frantzen; Mellgren (Hansen 77), Klavness.
Referee: Mr E. Evans (Greater Manchester).