Late leveller denies Lions
Saturday, 17 September, 2011
Added time goal earns Serbia a draw in opening Euro 2013 qualifier.
An Vesna Smiljkovic goal deep into added time denied England victory in their opening Euro 2013 qualifier against Serbia.
Rachel Yankey had opened the scoring for England after just six minutes, thumping the ball home at the back post, and this lead was doubled midway through the first half when Violeta Slovic inadvertently directed the ball into her own net. At this stage England had looked comfortable and were in total control of proceedings. Serbia had a few fairly tame shots at goal but the visitors went in 2-0 up at the break.
It was a slightly more disjointed second half and Danka Podovac’s free-kick ten minutes after the restart gave Serbia hope. They rallied and pushed for the equaliser and it came, agonisingly for the visitors, in the fourth minute of added time, through Smiljkovic’s 18-yard strike.
This goal somewhat soured Hope Powell’s big day, on the afternoon when she became the longest serving manager of an England senior team, surpassing Sir Walter Winterbottom’s previous record of 139 games.
The hosts came out of the blocks the quickest, with Jovana Sretenovic looking bright and getting two shots away, both of which lacked conviction.
In that opening period Serbia also had a claim for a penalty turned down when Dunia Susi slid to ground in the box to dispossess Sretenovic.
After that, though, England gained control and took the lead with their first meaningful attack. The ball was worked from right to left via Susi, Karen Carney and Natasha Dowie, and Yankey arrived late at the far post to crack home the opener with just over six minutes on the clock.
The Three Lionesses proceeded to control possession and made Serbia chase them in the 30 degree Belgrade heat with a patient, passing game. They probed constantly, trying to create another opening, but the second goal actually came courtesy of a set piece.
Carney swung a free-kick in from the left, Sophie Bradley’s header was well saved by goalkeeper Milena Vukovic, but Ellen White stooped to head the loose ball back across goal. In an attempt to clear the danger Slovic turned the ball into her own net.
These two relatively early setbacks appeared to deflate the Serbs and their next sight at goal didn’t come until the 28th minute, through Podovac’s 25-yard free-kick, but it was straight at Rachel Brown. They had another strike at goal five minutes before the break when Jovana Damnjanovic burst forward from left-back, though the ball sailed over the crossbar.
England had been on top for the majority of the half, however they were unable to fashion many efforts of their own; Dowie, making her first senior start, had three of the best of them, though. She struck just over from 20 yards out midway through the half and, later, with half-time approaching hit the underside of the crossbar when sliding in to meet Yankey’s cross into the box. Her final effort was a header which dipped just over the framework.
Powell made one change at the break, replacing Dowie with Rachel Williams, who was the top scorer in The FA WSL last season with 14 goals.
The opening chance of the second half fell to White, who somewhat snatched at her shot from 12 yards out after Rachel Unitt’s flick, from Carney’s corner, fell invitingly to the Arsenal youngster.
Then, out of nowhere, Serbia pulled a goal back, but credit must be given for a sweetly struck free-kick from about 25 yards out. Jill Scott, on her 50th senior appearance, was adjudged to have fouled Milena Pesic and Podovac stepped up to curl the dead ball right-footed accurately beyond Brown’s dive.
England soon regained their composure and Yankey attempted to extend the lead once more with an angled drive, only to see Vukovic parry and then claim.
Williams had a great opportunity to score her first England goal when she was found unmarked at the back post by Carney’s deep free-kick. Her goalscoring touch evaded her somewhat, though, and she headed over the bar.
England slightly lost their way midway through the half as Serbia pushed for what, at times, had appeared an unlikely equaliser, firing in a few harmless shots from distance, but the leveller duly arrived late, late on. Collecting the ball on the edge of the England box, Smiljkovic feigned to go to her right, pulled the ball back onto her left and sunk the ball inside Brown's left-hand post to rescue a point for the Serbs.
England return home on Sunday and head straight to Swindon, where they will entertain Slovenia on Thursday night, 7.30pm kick-off.