In qualifying for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup New Zealand 2008, Lois Fidler's young side continued an unprecedented period of success for English women's football.
Until recently, England's traditional status as a giant of the European and world game had not been translated into the female arena, with the Three Lions' youth and senior women's sides historically struggling to compete with the likes of Germany, USA and the Scandinavian nations. However, when Kelly Smith and Co qualified for China 2007 - England's first FIFA Women's World Cup in 12 years - it signalled the beginning of a revival that picked up pace when the U-19s went all the way to the final of last year's UEFA European U-19 Championship.
The onus was therefore on the U-17s to continue this steady development, and Fidler's side did not disappoint, advancing to New Zealand 2008 at the expense of Belgium, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. The achievement delighted senior coach Hope Powell. "We've come a long way over the last ten years," said Powell. "No-one would say that we've 'made it', but our players are now challenging some of the undisputed superpowers of women's football in a way that would have been unthinkable in the early-mid 90s."
England's path through the first and second qualifying rounds of the UEFA European Women's U-17 Championship proved relatively straightforward, with their place in the last four rarely in doubt. Throughout, the team's success was built on a miserly defensive record that, in six matches, saw Lauren Davey's goal breached on just two occasions.
Having impressed in warm-up tournaments, England announced their intentions on the continental stage in the most emphatic fashion imaginable, firing 13 unanswered goals past a shell-shocked Georgia. Jordan Nobbs grabbed a hat-trick in that game and she was to score twice more in England's next match, a 3-1 win over Slovakia that set them up to top their first stage qualifying group with a concluding 1-0 win over Russia.
The going was expected to get considerably tougher in the Czech Republic-hosted second round, but England quickly seized control of Group 1 with a comprehensive 4-0 win over the hosts in which Danielle Carter grabbed a double. Goals from Gilly Flaherty, Rachel Daly and Carter then tied up a 3-1 defeat of Belgium, leaving Fidler's side needing just a point to qualify, which they duly secured in a goalless draw with the Netherlands.
The final phase in Nyon, Switzerland, was to end in disappointment, with England finishing fourth following defeats by France (3-1) and Denmark (4-1), but the Lionesses will travel to New Zealand confident of impressing on the world stage.
A former player with Leyton Orient, Lois Fidler worked in a variety of coaching and developmental roles for the east London club before and after hanging up her boots. This reputation as a 'jack of all trades' has been strengthened since her move to the Football Association, where as well as being in charge of the U-17 team, Fidler heads up the FA Women's National Player Development Centre and fulfilled a scouting role during the senior FIFA Women's World Cup. Fidler, who obtained her UEFA 'A' Licence in 2004 and holds a degree in Sports Science and a Masters in Sports Coaching, has also worked closely with England's U-15, U-19 and U-23 squads.
Everton's academy provides England's U-17 pool with several star names, among them defender Jess Holbrook and midfielder Isobel Christiansen. Despite being one of the youngest members of the squad, Leyton Orient's Danielle Carter proved herself during qualifying with some vital, clinically-taken strikes.
What they said...
"Sometimes it's not about 11 key players but a squad of players, all of whom are developing at different rates and who offer something different. What was really pleasing [during qualifying] was how the players stepped up and showed real character in what were trying conditions and under the pressure of qualification. As long as these girls continue to buy into the whole package' and understand that international football requires players to develop as athletes too, the future is certainly bright," Lois Fidler, England coach.