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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 18:49 GMT
England progressing well
Rachel Brown
Rachel Brown performed admirably after a shaky start
BBC Sport Online's Tony Leighton reports from Kiev following England's efforts against Ukraine and believes Hope Powell can lead her team against the European elite in 2001.

A place in next year's women's European Championship finals is well within England's grasp following their 2-1 victory in the first leg of the play-off tie against Ukraine.

Their winning margin would have been wider had the defence not allowed Ukrainian central defender Natalia Zinchenko to steal in and grab a goal with the last kick of the game.

Disappointing though the concession of that last-gasp goal was, England should have no fears when they go into the second leg at Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road ground on 28 November.

The simple facts are that England won despite a below-par performance, while Ukraine failed to get the home victory they went all out to achieve to give themselves a buffer for the return leg.

They were at times a match for Hope Powell's team, and in wingers Lyugmyila Pekur and Tetyana Verezorbova they have players who may cause England problems the next time they meet.

Gelling defensively

But they rarely posed a serious goal threat to an England defence which is still gelling into the 4-4-2 formation which coach Powell has adopted in the last three matches.

The coach was fortunate to have at her disposal a quintet of top quality strikers, two of whom started on the substitutes bench but eventually proved the match winners.

USA-based Kelly Smith, 22 last Sunday, and experienced Doncaster Belles striker Karen Walker hit the goals which capped a much improved second-half performance by England.

Smith's excellent volley was her fifth international goal, while 31-year-old Walker, whose 15-yard effort somehow slipped through the legs of hapless goalkeeper Veronika Shulga, took her record England tally to 33.

Good performance

Both strikers performed well, as did the stand-in keeper Rachel Brown playing in only her third senior international.

Karen Walker
Karen Walker drove England on

Based, like Smith, in America, Brown was drafted into the side after first choice keeper Pauleen Cope was sidelined by stomach ailments during the morning of the match.

The 20-year-old keeper had some shaky moments in the early stages, but she grew in stature as the game progressed and was one of the side's better performers during the 90 minutes.

Brown and Smith, along with half a dozen colleagues of similar age or younger, represent the new breed of player who Powell is introducing to an increasingly formidable England team.

They are still some way short of the best in Europe, Norway and Germany, and other leading countries such as the USA, Brazil and China, but they are gradually closing the gap on the top nations.

If they can now complete an aggregate play-off victory over Ukraine it will be very interesting to see how they fare at Euro 2001.

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30 Oct 00 |  Football
England edge to Kiev victory
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