No Masking England Ambition

Camped in a city of skyscrapers, England's FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 ambitions are fittingly high. But while the prize that Germany seized four years ago in the USA remains the ultimate focus of English desire, the 'Three Lionesses' are not looking past their first game against Japan on Tuesday.

Ahead of their curtain-raiser, caught up with two of England's leading lights, Faye White and Kelly Smith, as well as assistant coach Brent Hills at the team hotel in Shanghai and the concensus was clear. In the words of all three: "We're taking one game at a time."

With Germany and reigning South American champions Argentina awaiting Hope Powell's side in Group A, they will be determined to open a campaign that promises so much on a positive note. According to Hills, preparations for their duel with Hiroshi Ohashi's charges have gone swimmingly. "It's all going very well," he said in an upbeat tone. "We acclimatised in Macau, the previous two weeks to coming here, and things have been going well in training. Hopefully we're very well prepared for the tournament."

It is a sentiment shared by his star pupil. "Preparations have gone really well," said Smith, whose precious skills could charm Chinese audiences over the coming weeks. "We had a training session yesterday and we felt good. We're not jetlagged at all. Our training camp was in Macau for two weeks, so we acclimatised to the heat over here. It's just going really well and we're looking forward to Japan."

Big test
While a meeting with Germany is, on paper, the steeper hurdle to clear, England will nonetheless face a stern examination of their credentials against Japan, who sit two places above them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking. "Every World Cup game is an important one," Hills warned. "There are no easy games. I don't see a weak team in this tournament. Obviously Japan's our first game and we hope to do very well. We've scouted them extensively."

White is also aware of the Japanese threat, although she insists England have to let their opponents do the worrying. "They are a good side and it will be a tough game. We have been looking at how they play and preparing to play against them. We understand that they will start with a 4-4-2 (formation). We'll have to wait and see. But we're not going to be too concerned about them. We need to go out there and play our own game. We've progressed so much recently that we have come here confident in ourselves."

Assured in possession and an imposing presence, White is very much the fulcrum of England's backline. However, that is not where her influence ends. With over 50 caps already in her pocket, a series of honours at club level with Arsenal and an MBE for services to sport, she is very much a look-to figure in the squad, which her team-mate Smith reveals boasts a special unity.

"The team spirit is really high at the moment," she said, laughing. "We've just had a sports psychology session and everybody got a bit emotional, talking about stuff that means something to them. We're knitted closely together, especially after that!"

"The spirit's fantastic," Hills agreed. "A lot of these girls have been together now for quite a time. We've got a good mix. We've got a number of players who are very experienced now and we've also got a youthful group as well who haven't really experienced this kind of thing before and they can't wait to get started."

Their chance will arrive on Tuesday when they run out at the Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium, a venue England hope to return to for the competition's concluding match on 30 September. Conquering the world would "be a dream come true" for Smith but the Arsenal standout is eager to avoid complacency. "We've got to get out of our group first," she said. "That's our main focus right now. After that anything can happen."

"This is the most prestigious women's football tournament in the world," Hills said. "Like anyone, you want to progress as far as you possibly can, the final if possible. I believe that England have at least as much chance as everybody else to win the competition, but all we're focusing on now though is getting out of our group. Then we'll take one game at a time. I know it's a cliché but that's what you do - if you look too far ahead in football it kicks you in the teeth."

Source FIFA

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