Hope's Faith
© FIFA.com

Despite being capped 66 times for her country and scoring 35 goals in the process, Hope Powell is better known in England for her coaching exploits rather than her playing ability. Not that the Londoner minds, as it further serves to highlight the remarkable rise of the women's game in England since she was appointed to the position in June 1998.

Back then, the average football fan in England would not have paid much attention to her appointment, but in the nine years that has followed, Powell has become an important figure in English football. In 2002, Hope was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. A year later, she became the first woman to achieve the UEFA Pro-Licence coaching award and was inducted into the English football Hall of Fame in the same year.

Now as she prepares to lead England to the FIFA Women's World Cup in China, the team's first appearance at the showpiece event for 11 years, FIFA.com caught up with her to discuss her targets for the tournament and the strengths of her squad.

FIFA.com: Hope, you've been placed in a group with Argentina, Germany and Japan - what was your reaction when the draw was made?
Hope Powell: I was pleased - I think it's been pretty kind to us. Argentina and Japan are somewhat of an unknown quantity, but we know a lot about Germany having played them so often. It could have been a lot worse - I was glad we avoided Sweden and Brazil. But standards are improving in women's football all the time and I am under no illusions that every game will be challenging. We just need to prepare as well as we can.

Do you think your players have got better since they qualified for the World Cup?
I'd like to think so. We want to improve after every game we play. I think the challenge for us will be how we cope in a tournament environment. This will be a new experience for the group. In terms of the players as footballers, in terms of their tactical knowledge, they are better, but they need to apply it in games - and that's the test.

You were involved in the Four Nations tournament in China earlier this year. How valuable was that in terms of your preparations?
It was hugely important - and I was desperate to go to experience the time difference, the conditions and to get a feel of playing against a high calibre of opposition in a tournament format. We did relatively well, so it was a huge confidence boost for players. It's great that the England team are being invited to these tournaments now. In competitions such as these, the hosts usually want the best teams in the world to take part and it's nice to be given that recognition.

What do you think is your team's major strength?
They have a continual desire to learn and improve - and that's in all aspects: technically, tactically, physically and psychologically - they always want more. That's really pleasing. If we give them something new, then they'll take it on board and they will have a go. It's their enthusiasm to become better and the fact that they can compete against the best teams in the world which makes it a pleasure for me to coach them. They are also extremely hard workers and put a tremendous amount of effort and application to reach the World Cup finals.

Can you remember what you were feeling on the night you qualified in Rennes?
Pure elation. I was pleased, relieved and really happy. After the EUROs, everyone was desperate to do well in the qualifying competition. We weren't expected to qualify: France were the clear favourites and I think that proving that England were good enough to go to a World Cup meant a great deal to me. It was extremely satisfying.

Have you set any targets for China?
It's every player and manager's dream to do well in a major tournament. This is no exception. Obviously, our first task is to get out of the group - and then anything can happen.

You were involved in the 1995 edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup. What are your memories of that tournament?
Being involved in a World Cup was special. I used to watch the other teams warm up, how they played and compare their methods to our own. Looking back, I think that we've learned from that experience, as we're going to China more prepared than we were for Sweden. No-one thinks sticks out really: the general sense of excitement we felt before our first game, the sadness we felt at getting knocked out - but for me the lessons I learnt as a player and coach were far more important.

What is your assessment of the strides made by the women's game in England and the world?
I think the way the game has moved on has been remarkable. I don't think I could have ever predicted the growth of women's football, but now that we have reached a certain level, both in England and in the world, I hope that growth will continue.

I think the work that has been done in England by The FA to has been vital and the hosting of UEFA EURO 2005 certainly brought the women's games to the forefront of everyone's minds. Since then, it has snowballed. Everyone loves major tournaments and the fact that England have qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 11 years is a story in itself.