By Kevin Ashby in Milton Keynes
England's preparations for the 2005 UEFA European Women's Championship, a tournament they will host, began in earnest last night with a 4-1 victory against fellow finalists Italy.
In front of an enthusiastic 6,546 crowd at the National Hockey Stadium, Hope Powell's side established an unassailable three-goal advantage by half-time which enabled them to field some emerging talent in the second period. One such player, Karen Carney, provided the gloss after Rachel Unitt, Jody Handley and Amanda Barr all struck before the interval. Deiana Damiana scored Italy's goal in the 80th minute.
England fielded two debutantes and one of them, goalkeeper Josephine Fletcher, made a nervous start as her lack of communication with right-back Alex Scott led to an Italy corner inside 12 seconds. That proved Fletcher's only moment of hesitance, however, as the players in front of her gradually grew in confidence and teased their opponents into a first-half submission.
Barr had provided a warning of England's intent in the ninth minute when she touched the ball wide from a promising position after Handley and Rachel Yankey had linked up superbly to create the opening. Yankey, now switched from left flank to right, also played a part in the opening goal, sending in a free-kick which was headed clear to Fara Williams. The midfielder player's first-time volley found the leg of Unitt and the left-back turned in joy to see goalkeeper Carla Brunozzi wrong-footed.
Barr then created the second in the 28th minute, sending in another ball from the right which Brunozzi spilled under pressure and Handley was on hand to stroke it into an empty net. Provider turned scorer eight minutes before the interval as Barr, growing in sharpness as the minutes ticked by, latched on to a weighted Williams pass and touched the ball beyond Brunozzi with her right foot and into the gaping goal with her left.
Emily Westwood had twice gone close to opening her England account on her debut when Carney, 17, did just that. The goal was created by fellow half-time substitute Eniola Aluko, the diminutive forward bamboozling Damiana before sending in an intelligent through-ball to Carney who beat the offside trap and Brunozzi at the second attempt.
It was ten minutes from time when Italy finally found their range, although Damiana's goal from a free-kick owed much to a deflection off Westwood, rather like Unitt's. Such was England's dominance, a Mexican wave engulfed the stadium late on; if only the temperature was more Guadalajara than Glasgow.
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