Lionesses ready to roar

These are good times to be an England fan. With Wayne Rooney's resurgence and Theo Walcott's emergence having combined to give the Three Lions their best-ever start to a FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, gloom is steadily giving way to glee; cynicism to optimism.

And this feelgood factor is not confined to the men's ranks. If anything, in fact, Hope Powell's women have been a more dependable source of encouragement, with Kelly Smith and Co having followed up their impressive FIFA Women's World Cup debut by excelling en route to securing a place at next year's UEFA European Championship.

With the short-term future seemingly bright, attention is turning to the longer-term outlook for English women's football, represented in the team that will shortly do battle in the first-ever FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. Lois Fidler's young side certainly underlined their potential by becoming the first European team to secure a spot at New Zealand 2008 and, as their coach told, the Lionesses are now set on taking up the mantle laid down by their senior counterparts.

"In football, success tends to breed success and there's no doubt whatsoever that the senior women have inspired our girls," said Fidler. "Role models are central to the development of any young sportsmen and women, and seeing what the likes of Kelly Smith have achieved has been a real eye-opener.

"Most of our girls will also have played with or against these senior players, either at their clubs or at national training camps, and that experience will have shown them the standards they have to aspire to on and off the park. Hope's team have been fantastic in that respect and now the challenge for our girls is to show everyone that they have what it takes to surpass the seniors' achievements and take us to the next level."

She may be setting the bar high, but Fidler knows that her charges are not widely expected to bring home the gold from their maiden global showpiece. With the likes of USA and Germany generally tipped as pre-tournament favourites, England have assumed the role of unpredictable outsiders, a status strengthened by their recent struggles in qualifying for next year's UEFA U-17 finals.

Fidler, however, believes England's opponents would do well to avoid drawing conclusions from their 2-1 defeat to Norway, pointing out that many of her New Zealand 2008 squad did not compete, and insisting that those who are making the mammoth trip are ready for anything - and anyone.

A lot of the work we've been doing has been on problem-solving, dealing with any eventuality, and hopefully that's something that will stand the girls in good stead
Fidler believes flexibility will be key in New Zealand.

"We're all set," she insisted. "A lot of the work we've been doing has been on problem-solving, dealing with any eventuality, and hopefully that's something that will stand the girls in good stead. They certainly know by now that they're going to need to be to be flexible and adaptable because they'll be coming up against teams - and styles of play - that they've never faced before. How they cope with that is going to be absolutely critical, but we're hopeful of going over there and doing a good job."

The inevitable follow-up question to Fidler's last remark is, of course: what would represent 'a good job' for England? Are the semi-finals a target? The final, even? Or will the Lionesses simply be satisfied to escape from an unpredictable group that also boasts Korea Republic, African champions Nigeria and a Brazil side against whom Filder's side commence their campaign next Thursday.

"First and foremost, we're honoured just to be competing," said Fidler. "When you consider the teams who haven't made it - the likes of Norway and Sweden, who have such fantastic pedigree in women's football - it's a real credit to the girls that we were the first team from Europe to qualify. But now we're here, we don't want to just 'enjoy the experience'; we want to make an impact.

"Getting out of the group stage will obviously be an objective, but what you'll see from us a game-by-game mentality. The girls just need to prepare as best as they can and play to the best of ability - anything less is unacceptable. They going up against the best teams in the world and as long they do themselves justice, that will be success as far as I'm concerned... And if we can win it? Even better!"