England to give fans night to remember

CHRIS WISE Women's football has never had a higher profile in this country - and Norfolk football fans will have a chance to see what all the fuss is about this evening.


Women's football has never had a higher profile in this country - and Norfolk football fans will have a chance to see what all the fuss is about this evening.

After capturing the public's imagination in the European Championships, which were held on home soil, England have now turned their attention to the 2007 World Cup, and have already marked themselves down as a team to be reckoned with by winning their opening three qualifying games.

Hope Powell's team will take a massive step towards reaching the finals in China if they beat main group rivals France later this month, but before that they have an important warm-up match to focus on, with a highly-rated Iceland side providing the opposition at Carrow Road (7.45pm).

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The England head coach has tasted defeat on her two previous visits to Norfolk, but is hoping it will be a very different story this time around as her exciting young team go looking for a morale-boosting win ahead of the big one at Ewood Park on March 26.

“This is the third time I have brought a team to Carrow Road and I am really looking forward to it,” she said. “We lost to Norway and Nigeria so hopefully we can give the supporters something to cheer about this time.

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“It's a great stadium and we always seem to get a very warm welcome there. People have come down in good numbers in the past and hopefully that will be the case again on Thursday night. I understand ticket sales are going well so that is excellent news.

“It's the final friendly before we play France so it is a very important game for us - and a good game as well.

“Iceland are also in the middle of their World Cup qualification campaign and drew with Sweden recently which was an excellent result. We played them a couple of years ago at Peterborough and beat them 1-0 and I am sure it will be another competitive game, which is just what we need going into the France match.

“We want to give the crowd a game they will enjoy and remember - and I am sure Iceland will be the same.

“We have had one or two injuries, and our captain Faye White is out of the France game through suspension, so this gives us a chance to try an alternative in her position as well as looking at all the players.”

England may have failed to qualify for the semi-finals of last summer's European Championships but they provided some tremendous entertainment for the thousands of fans who turned up at the City of Manchester Stadium and Ewood Park - and the millions who watched the games live on television.

Powell is pleased that the momentum has been maintained - and now wants to see her side follow it all the way through to China next summer.

“That whole Euro 2005 experience was great for us,” she recalled. “We had the talent to have reached the last four, there's no doubt about that. We were a bit naïve at times and paid the price, but the experience will have done the players no harm. We have got a very young side and that will stand us in good stead for the future.

“When we went out early it was very disappointing, but we played some good football and showed a lot of people what we could do. We had good crowds for our games, and a lot of people were watching at home on the BBC, so the tournament certainly provided a big boost for women's football in this country.

“We've built on that by making a very good start to our World Cup campaign - and now we have now got to make sure we maintain those high standards in our remaining five games.”

England squad: Rachel Brown (Everton), Siobhan Chamberlain (Bristol Academy), Lindsay Johnson (Everton), Mary Phillip (Arsenal), Alex Scott (Arsenal), Casey Stoney (Charlton), Rachel Unitt (Everton), Faye White (Arsenal), Anita Asante (Arsenal), Katie Chapman (Charlton), Vicky Exley (Doncaster Belles), Kelly Smith (Arsenal), Fara Williams (Everton), Eniola Aluko (Charlton), Amanda Barr (Charlton), Karen Carney (Birmingham), Jody Handley (Everton), Josanne Potter (Charlton), Sue Smith (Leeds), Rachel Yankey (Arsenal).

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