Kelly Smith’s long range half volley vs Russia, Euro 2009 – XenBet

90min’s Moments series delves into the most iconic goals, games and occasions from football history through the eyes of those who were there. Ahead of Euro 2022, we look back at Kelly Smith’s half volley from inside the centre circle during England’s 3-2 victory over Russia at Euro 2009.

Women’s football was anything but a mainstream sport in England in 2009. The Women’s Premier Division was still an amateur league, central contracts had only been offered to a selection of England players for the very first time a matter of months before Euro 2009 kicked off, and the tournament was not being shown on terrestrial television in the UK.

As a result, it was more than just European glory that England were playing for at Euro 2009; they were playing for exposure for their sport.

“Through the tournament we were told: ‘get out of the group, they’ll show it on telly’,” Faye White, England captain at Euro 2009, told 90min. “I remember Hope (Powell) saying it now, I can see her sat in the meeting room: ‘get to the quarters, they’ll show it’.

“They didn’t.

“‘Get to the semi finals, they’ll show it.’

“They didn’t.

“They paid more for the final than they would have if they’d covered all six games. And it was like if only. But at that time the media were just like women’s sport – not just women’s football, women’s sport – no.”

Two years earlier, England had reached the World Cup for the first time since 1995 and progressed to the quarter finals, while the previous three European Championships had seen the Lionesses either get knocked out in the group stages or fail to qualify altogether.

But the only thing that was going to earn the team mainstream attention was tangible success.

“We always knew that we had to win a tournament. The only thing that was going to get us coverage was if we won a tournament,” added White. “But that’s so hard to do. With the funding we had compared to the top nations, we were on a development level.”

Having lost their opening group game to Italy, victory over Russia in their second group fixture was going to be pivotal for England’s chances of progressing to the quarter finals – particularly with a tough final group match against Sweden on the horizon.

The Lionesses did not get off to the best of starts. They found themselves 2-0 down inside 22 minutes and facing elimination from the tournament at the earliest possible stage.

Karen Carney quickly sparked the England comeback, getting on the scoresheet two minutes after Russia had doubled their lead, before sliding in Eni Aluko, who netted the Lionesses’ equaliser with 13 minutes of the first half still to play.

And then on the stroke of half time came the moment of magic to settle proceedings.

Russia goalkeeper Elena Kochneva’s drop kick was controlled with her instep inside the centre circle by Kelly Smith. The ball bounced, Smith took a glance up, before connecting sweetly with her laces to unleash a thunderous volley over the head of the backpedaling Kochneva. The Russia goalkeeper was lobbed from all of 35 yards out.

“It was an outstanding bit of skill from her, first of all to recognise the goalkeeper was off her line, but then to execute it,” recalled England winger Sue Smith. “I just thought it was an absolutely fantastic bit of skill.”

Smith was mobbed by her teammates, before giving a wry smile – only half surprised by her own brilliance.

“Jeeze, that goal was one of the best I think I’ve ever seen,” added White. “That goal was something special.”

After a breathless 45 minutes, the second half finished goalless, with Smith’s audacious strike proving decisive. It would also prove to be a decisive moment in the whole context of England’s tournament.

The Lionesses drew with Sweden in their final group game, and with the tournament consisting of just 12 teams at the time, England qualified as one of two best third place teams. Without Smith’s wonder goal and England’s win against Russia, they would have been eliminated.

England’s third place finish proved to be a blessing, placing them in the kinder half of the draw in the knockout stages. A 3-2 victory over Finland in the quarter finals was followed by a dramatic extra-time win against the Netherlands as England book their place in the final of Euro 2009.

“No one expected us to get to the final,” White recalled. “We always went with (the mentality of): ‘we have to prepare for six games, but if we can get to the quarters, great’.

“We got on a ride and because of the way that it worked we lost the first game but it made it a slightly easier path. For us at that time, we couldn’t beat every team that was put in front of us, we knew that, but we knew we were growing and we got that belief in the team and we got all the way to the final, which was massive. I look back at that as my biggest moment.”

England went toe to toe with their illustrious German counterparts for the first hour of the final, before the extra class and fitness of their opponents ultimately took its toll. Germany netting three goals in the final 30 minutes to run out 6-2 victors and secure their fifth successive European title.

Although the final ended in heartache, it remains England’s best performance at a major women’s tournament this century.

“It was a big thing in 2009 and I think doesn’t get talked about a lot, almost like it’s forgotten and I don’t know why,” added White. “It’s something to look back on and say: ‘we got there without all the funding, and we need to get there again’.”

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Author: Heidi Porter