Eight sides begin their battle for Europe’s three places at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Costa Rica 2014 in England today, with Arsenal and England forward Danielle Carter a keen observer on proceedings.
The hosts kick-off the tournament against Italy today, with Austria and Portugal making up Group A, while France, Germany, Spain and Scotland contest the other section. The two finalists, together with the third placed team, will book their ticket for the world finals which begin on 15 March next year.
This time five years ago, it was Carter who was preparing to make the trip to New Zealand and she was happy to reflect on the experience for FIFA.com.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she said. “To this day it’s still one of my best footballing moments. I was 15 and I remember my coach at Leyton Orient saying: 'Don’t get your hopes up in case you don’t get selected', but I was. We were away for a month and the lessons I learned there help me even now.
“It taught me never to underestimate any opposition and to respect every single opponent. During every single international fixture, you can’t switch off at any point and you have to put everything into every game.”
The Arsenal forward got off to a memorable start, scoring twice against Brazil in England’s opening fixture as Lois Fidler’s side eventually finished fourth in the finals with a squad that included the likes of Gemma Bonner and Jordan Nobbs who are on their way to establishing themselves as England internationals.
Carter too has received two call-ups by England’s interim women’s coach Brent Hills for recent FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers and is now eager to taste senior action while wearing the Three Lions.
“The call-up was a shock to begin with but it was an amazing to get the opportunity to go up and train with the senior girls,” she said. “Having been around the squad twice now I actually want to receive a cap.
“I’m going to work harder to get more call-ups and get my chance to play for my country. That’s my target for the new year: be a regular with Arsenal again, continue to get picked for England, but to also earn my first cap.”
The strong and skilful forward is currently on a break after the league season finished as her club picked up the FA Cup and the Continental Cup, but missed out on the league to Liverpool. However, the Lady Gunners are still in with a shout of the 2013/14 UEFA Women’s Champions League and face Birmingham City in the last eight.
Yet while the likes of Arsenal, Birmingham and Liverpool enjoy a well-earned rest from domestic duties, the focus of female football in England now turns to the UEFA U-17 Women’s Championship which finishes on Sunday 8 December.
And, as England’s next generation prepares to emulate Carter’s Class of 2008, the now 20-year-old was desperate to give the younger Lionesses some advice as they prepare to face Italy in the opening fixture today.
“Just go for it with everything you can,” she smiled. “First and foremost - enjoy it. All of their family and friends will be there supporting them. Put everything into it because obviously there’s a great opportunity to represent England at a World Cup. And to play at a World Cup is brilliant.”