England earning respect
© AFP

Whatever follows for England at this FIFA Women's World Cup, there is no doubting that Hope Powell and her players have already made people sit up and take note - both here in China and back at home too.

England's qualification for the quarter-finals of China 2007 means they have equalled their best performance on the world stage - in Sweden in 1995 - and according to star attacker Kelly Smith, it should ensure Powell's side gain the recognition she believes is long overdue. "We don't always get the kind of credit we deserve but now we have proven that we belong here by reaching the quarter-finals," said Smith in the wake of Monday night's 6-1 victory over Argentina.

The England No10 had admitted earlier in the competition that comments from within the Germany camp discounting England as serious contenders had "spurred us on a little bit", but nobody is taking England lightly now. Greg Ryan, coach of their quarter-final opponents USA, could be heard praising Powell's side for both their collective strength and the individual qualities of Smith at a Shanghai press conference on Sunday, while Denmark midfielder Julie Rydahl Bukh told FIFA.com that, besides highly-rated Brazil and Germany, "if I had to pick another team who could do something, it would be England".

Smith herself feels that, having held world champions Germany 0-0 and put six goals past Argentina, England should now fear nobody. "We'll have the confidence to take on even the big teams, the so-called top teams in the world," said Smith, whose two goals against Argentina took her to four for the tournament, level with Brazil's Marta and Germany's Birgit Prinz at the top of the scorers' chart.

Praise from McClaren
When the England party arrived at their new base in Tianjin, venue for the quarter-final against the winners of Group B, on Tuesday afternoon and logged on to their laptops they would have seen praise for their performance from the men's England football manager, Steve McClaren.

"I'm delighted for the team and particularly Hope Powell. I know she has worked extremely hard with her planning and preparation for the tournament in China," McClaren told the Football Association's official website. "We've already seen that England are now a genuine force on the world stage. They can be very proud of their performances in the group, and it would be brilliant if they can go beyond the last eight on Saturday."

The FA's chief executive Brian Barwick, for his part, declared that "the interest they have already generated has been excellent for the profile of the game". Save for enthusiasts of the women's game, the FIFA Women's World Cup has largely escaped the attention of English football fans previously, but not this time. England goalkeeper David James wrote in his Observer newspaper column this week that the "only topic of conversation going round the dinner table" prior to last Wednesday's EURO 2008 qualifier against Russia had been the women's team's opening draw with Japan.

Meanwhile, the BBC is covering the tournament for the first time, with England's games against Germany and Argentina - broadcast live on BBC2 in the early afternoon - attracting a peak of 1.1m viewers on each occasion. A considerably higher audience can be expected for the quarter-final given it will be screened on Saturday lunchtime on the main BBC1 channel. Whether they see another England triumph, of course, remains to be seen but Smith underlined the optimism in the camp when she said: "Our goal was to get out of the group and that's what we've done. Now anything can happen."