Steffi Jones ranks as a leading member of a golden generation in German women's football. The powerful defender clocked up no fewer than 111 international caps and claimed winners' medals at one FIFA Women's World Cup and three UEFA European Championships. Off the field, her honest and approachable personality has made her a high-profile figurehead for the women's game.

Many supporters felt a sense of shock last March when the 34-year-old abruptly announced her retirement from international football. "I've drawn the necessary conclusions after reviewing my personal performance at the Algarve Cup. I've always aimed to be a leader and not just an also-ran," she explained with characteristic frankness.

Six months down the line, while the reigning world champions prepare to defend their crown at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 without their long-serving defensive organiser, Jones is penning her autobiography, Getting A Kick Out Of Life - How I Made It To The Top ("Der Kick des Lebens - Wie ich den Weg nach oben schaffte"). She took time out for an exclusive chat with, revealing how agonising watching events in China from afar is likely to be. Steffi, with just a few days to go until the big kick-off in China, do you have any misgivings about ending your international career some six months ago?
Steffi Jones: Obviously, I have quite a few regrets at the moment, to be perfectly honest and frank about it. Watching the German women's team in action but not being a part of it cuts me to the quick, especially as so many folk come up to me and say: 'Steffi, you'd still have been good enough.' But I still believe I made the right decision.

Where will you be during the FIFA Women's World Cup?
I'm not flying to China, alas. I'm staying in Germany to focus on my coaching badge. But make no mistake, I'll be in regular contact with lots of the players, by text for example. I'll stay close to the team and support them in my thoughts.

Tell us about your gut feeling: how far can defending champions Germany go at this FIFA World Cup?
I definitely believe the current team is capable of defending the trophy, no doubt about it. I'm fairly certain they'll get better with every game and hit peak form just when it really matters. That's simply the way it is with us, and how it always has been in the past. And I hope the girls really enjoy themselves at the tournament and get swept along by World Cup fever, not least because it's an incredibly valuable experience for the younger players.

Which of the talented newcomers have the potential to follow in the footsteps of Birgit Prinz and Co, in your opinion?
The first name that springs to mind is Melanie Behringer, who's already shown often enough that she's destined for a central role in the new generation in German women's football. Then you have Simone Laudehr, who's exploded onto the scene in defensive midfield. And I'm hoping Anja Mittag finally makes the breakthrough in China.

How urgently does German women's football require a new generation? Has the golden generation hung on too long?
A definite 'no' from my point of view! The current team has yet to peak, and the girls will prove that in China. We have players who will never be satisfied and will always set new targets. I really don't like all this talk about age, and only then about performance. Obviously, it's great to see fresh talent coming through, adding dynamism and new ideas. But the very fact that Birgit Prinz, Renate Lingor and a number of others are still so good means the youngsters can just do their stuff without thinking about it. It's basically a perfect blend!

Germany apart, who do you regard as favourites in China?
In my opinion, it's definitely the USA, another team with a fantastic blend of youth and experience. Norway have impressed me, and I think Japan will be pretty good too. And as usual, the good news is there'll definitely be a couple of surprise packages too. Maybe it'll be hosts China, a truly unknown quantity.

And what about individuals? Will the established stars again set their seal on the tournament?
Obviously, the first names you think of are the likes of Birgit Prinz, Hanna Ljungberg, Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly. These are towering personalities who have contributed so much to our sport. I'm looking forward to watching Marta of Brazil, and of course England's Kelly Smith, who I'm sure will lead her country a long way. But having said all that, I'm crossing my fingers and fervently hoping we'll discover one or two new faces capable of outshining the established stars.

The previous tournament in the USA was a huge success. What are your expectations of China 2007?
I'm absolutely certain we'll see tremendous support in huge numbers, because they're passionate about the game in China. And aside from the sporting contest, my greatest wish would be for the teams to enjoy the tournament to the full. The World Cup should be about bringing people together, and I know that'll be the case again at this edition.