Women’s World Cup: Powell’s England gear up for Germany

England are aiming to better their World Cup quarter-final appearances of 1995 and 2007 in Germany

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Hope Powell’s England side are full of confidence going into the sixth women’s World Cup, which kicks off in Germany on Sunday.

England enter the 16-team tournament off the back of wins against two of the world’s top five sides in the USA and Sweden.

And after reaching the final of Euro 2009 where they lost to Germany, bookmakers have England as one of this year’s favourites for glory despite never getting beyond the quarter-finals.

At the England squad announcement at Somerset House earlier this month, Powell described her squad as the strongest yet.

A squad which boasts a wealth of experience with just five debutants joining the more familiar faces including Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey, Fara Williams, and captain Faye White, as other senior players Sue Smith and Lindsay Johnson missed out.

Arsenal Ladies’ Ellen White and Steph Houghton, Lincoln’s Sophie Bradley, Chelsea’s Claire Rafferty and Birmingham’s Dunia Susi were all called up for their first international tournament, and will look to make an impact as the group stages see three games in just 9 days.

England’s campaign gets under way in Wolfsburg on Monday against Mexico – a team which has made huge strides in recent years, first at the women’s U20 World Cup where they reached the semi-final, before qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1999.

Powell refused to talk about the tournament beyond the group stages, with her players knowing that finishing runners-up in Group B should mean a quarter-final clash with Germany, who are not only expected to top Group A, but widely tipped reach the final and secure an unprecedented third World Cup in a row.

Despite the positives and spectator expectations surrounding England’s world cup preparation, bookmakers make Japan-who England play in a potential group winners shoot-out on July 5-favourites to top Group B.

Japan’s standout player, Homare Sawa, is in her 17th year as a Japanese international, having made her debut at the age of 15.

But despite a diminutive stature, she can still cause problems for bigger defenders, and will have come across several of England’s players in the USA.

Mexico are not a team England should take lightly either after they defeated the USA 2-1 in the semi-finals of the Concacaf women’s Gold Cup to book an automatic place in Germany, before losing 1-0 in the final to Canada.

Like many countries, women’s football in Mexico is experiencing a rise, and while they might be ranked 22 in the world, they are certainly better than their ranking going into the World Cup.

England will also have to stop an improving New Zealand side, who will look to get past the group stages for the first time.

Hayley Morwood became the Ferns’ most-capped player during the recent warm-up MatchWorld Tournament in Switzerland, where they came through three very useful and competitive games against Wales, Denmark and Colombia.

And John Herdman will look to the Chelsea Ladies midfielder, and Ottawa Fury’s Amber Hearn to lead the way to causing an upset by usurping Japan and England.

England’s men’s team might dream of repeating 1966’s World Cup win over the Germans, but the closest their female counterparts have got to a major title is the Euro 2009 final in Helsinki, which Germany won 6-2 after completely outplaying Powell’s side.

With all eyes on the England team and their expected 4-3-3 formation, more will look to Kelly Smith, finally fully fit for a major tournament, to spearhead England’s attack. If she can stay injury-free, she will once again be of England’s most dangerous players.

Her acerbic views on women’s football in England aside, Smith can combine the right amount of tenacity and attacking flair to make 2011 a year to remember. And at 32, she continues to be one of the standout players in the Women’s Professional Soccer league in the USA.

Fara Williams, at the heart of the midfield, will also be key to England success if she can overcome a troublesome knee injury that kept her out of the win over Sweden. The Everton midfielder was impressive against the USA, and Powell will have no hesitation about starting her to marshal the midfield.

It might be a variation of a cliche more often associated with the men’s team, but England really do have a great chance of reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup.

If they top Group B, they should face Canada or France, two teams they are more than capable of beating.

A quarter-final against Germany would require an incredible performance to beat the de facto best side in the world.

And if England fail to make it out of the group, there will be rumblings back home about whether Powell is the right person to take the team on to Euro 2013.

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