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By Paul Saffer in Preston
Ten minutes from time against Denmark, UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ hosts England thought they were through. At full-time they thought they would need to beat Sweden in their Group A closer.
In fact, a point should be enough for England to secure a semi-final place in Blackburn on Saturday, but Sweden, the 2001 UEFA European Women's Championship and 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup finalists, have been here before.
In both of those competitions they went into their final group games not sure of progress, only to produce vital wins. And, of course, when Djurgården/Älvsjö came to Arsenal LFC in the second leg of their UEFA Women's Cup semi-final following a 1-1 draw in Stockholm, Victoria Svensson scored the only goal to take the Swedish champions through against the English title-holders - with a number of players involved for their respective national representatives set to be in action again in Blackburn.
Hope against history
Had England held on to their 1-0 lead against Denmark at Ewood Park on Wednesday, they would already have been through as group winners. But now Hope Powell's side must avoid defeat against Sweden for the first time in 21 years, when England won the opening leg of the 1984 European Competition for Women's Football only to lose the tie on penalties.
As Powell, a player 21 years ago, prepared to end an English run of eight straight defeats by Sweden, she reflected on their Danish disappointment. "Football showed that it can be a cruel game, but we've got to pick ourselves up," Powell said. "Going into the tournament Sweden were overwhelming favourites to progress from the group, but they have to beat us to go through, while a draw for us will do."
Of course, England will have the support of at least 17,000 fans. Powell added: "But we know we can get the win and we'll be going all out for the three points. If the fans are anything like they have been already, they'll give the players a great lift."
Marika Domanski-Lyfors, the mastermind of Sweden's 2003 World Cup run as coach, has no injury worries, but knows it will not be easy. And she will not want to depart her final tournament in charge in the group stage without a win, having been held by both Denmark and Finland in their first two games.
'Talent to progress'
She said: "I expect a really tough game from England. They have impressed so far in the tournament, but in my heart of hearts
I believe my team are stronger physically and have the talent to progress to the last four of this tournament."
Both Danish goals in their 2-1 comeback against England sprung from free-kicks, and Domanski-Lyfors has taken note. "We have been practicing set-pieces and we feel this is one way in which we may be able to break the English defence down," she said.
The coach added: "I have told my team one thing and that is that we will not be going home to Sweden without a medal. We have been in this kind of situation before where we have started slowly, for instance in the World Cup, and we went and qualified for the next stage so we do not feel the pressure. We have the belief in the squad that we can go all the way."
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