The draw for the European qualifying campaign for the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 was met with a muted response by followers of the women's game in England.  On paper, Hope Powell's charges were handed one of the toughest groups on 1 September 2005. But the road to China began with a convincing 4-1 victory over Austria in Amstetten.

Since then, England have gone on to record five more victories in Group 5.  As well as a comfortable 4-0 victory over Austria in the return match on home soil, they did a 'double' over Hungary (13-0 and 2-0) and the Netherlands (1-0 and 4-0).  The only team that England haven't managed to beat is France, who held them to a goalless draw at Ewood Park, home of Blackburn Rovers, back in March.

Les Bleues, however, suffered defeat at the hands of the Dutch a year ago, handing the advantage to England.  A draw would be good enough to take them through to the FIFA Women's World Cup finals after an absence of 11 years, but there is no way that Powell is going into the game in Rennes with a negative attitude.

"We have to go out there to win and express ourselves, it's very dangerous to go for the draw," said Powell.  "Hopefully we can put on a performance like we did against the Netherlands.  With the current run of form we have to go into the game believing in ourselves and believing that we are capable of getting the result we want.  

"On the back end of playing the Netherlands and how well we played in that game, I think we go into this one full of confidence.  There is more pressure on France to qualify from the group due to their past results and world ranking. I think they were favourites to win the group from the outset but for us it is about staying focused, it is the last game of the group and we will go for it." 

Missed chance
Had England won their game against France in Blackburn, qualification would have already been assured and Saturday's game would have been a mere formality.  The memories of the match serve as an irritation for Powell, who believes that the French gained a share of the spoils due to a below-par performance from her side.

"I think if we are honest with ourselves about the last game with France, we did not perform well enough," she admitted. "Rachel Brown was player of the match and that says everything for me.  After the game, and even at half time, I said to the girls 'Please don't tell me this side is better than you.'  As the game went on in spells we started to believe in ourselves, we can't underestimate France as they are a decent side - but we are as good as they are."

Win, lose or draw on Saturday evening, the England Women's team can take great credit for the amount of interest their excellent run of results has generated.  The match against France is being screened live by the BBC - and attendances for their qualifying matches have generally attracted an average of around 8,000 fans.  All of this seems to suggest that women's football is gaining more popularity in the country and that is a source of tremendous pride for both Powell and the team.

"It's been a lot of hard work over the years, and I have to give credit to the girls because we have had to change the culture of women's football," she continued.  "Talking from when I was a player, I found that physically we weren't fit enough and then became a manager and saw teams losing games in the last 15 minutes.  We had to change the culture of training twice a week to training every day. We gave players personalised training schedules so that they could last against the top teams.  They are gifted and they can play football, but if you are too tired in a game to even compete then you are not going to shine against the likes of Germany."