By Kevin Ashby at City of Manchester stadium
England were indebted to Karen Carney for ensuring they got their 2005 UEFA European Women's Championship campaign off to a winning start as the 17-year-old struck an added-time winner to seal a 3-2 victory against Finland and an early place at the Group A summit.
Carney's strike provided a fitting conclusion to a wonderful occasion at the City of Manchester stadium as a European record crowd approaching 30,000 was treated to a feast of attacking football. An own goal from Finland captain Sanna Valkonen and Amanda Barr's header gave England a 2-0 lead before Anna-Kaisa Rantanen and Laura Kalmari's 89th-minute strike drew Finland level ahead of Carney's late intervention.
Hope Powell had sprung two minor surprises by naming Carney ahead of Jodie Handley and selecting Kelly Smith in preference to Emily Westwood despite the Arsenal LFC forward lacking match practice following numerous injuries. How satisfied must the England coach have been then to see Smith provide much of the quality, despite fierce opposition from former Philadelphia Charge team-mate Anne Mäkinen, for much of the opening period and Carney the pace and industry out wide.
It was from the left-hand side that the teenager created England's 18th-minute opener, first winning a free-kick through deceptive footwork and then whipping in a low centre which Finland goalkeeper Satu Kunnas could only push against the legs of Valkonen who turned to see the ball trickling over the line. Mäkinen almost drew Finland level in the 25th minute as she powerfully headed Mary Phillip's clearance over Fletcher but against the crossbar, and then saw another firm header fizz wide.
Having twice gone close to restoring parity, Finland slipped further behind in the 40th minute as Barr made it 2-0 with a looping header. The goal was all about Smith, though, as the 26-year-old picked the ball up on the England right, cut a swathe through the opposing defence and unleashed a fierce left-foot drive which rattled back into play off the bottom of the crossbar. Centre forward Barr was the first to react, her header just sneaking over the line despite Kunnas's valiant attempt to scoop it out.
Although England coped initially following the half-time withdrawal of Smith for Westwood, Finland were back in the game eleven minutes later as Rantenen scored with a crisp, curled shot from outside the area after being found in space by Mäkinen. The goalscorer almost doubled both her and Finland's tally soon after the hour with a corner which somehow evaded everyone on a crowded goal-line and whistled just wide.
With Finland dominating, Powell substituted Barr's ability to hold up the ball with Eniola Aluko's pace in the 73rd minute. The teenaged forward had two outstanding openings to make the game safe, only to be denied on each occasion by the brilliance of Kunnas. England appeared to pay the price for such profligacy when Kalmari capitalised on a mix-up in the home defence to head in an equaliser, only for Carney to expertly side-foot in a sensational winner after Kunnas had repelled Aluko for a third time.