It was way back in 1895 when the first recorded women's football match took place in England. Exactly 100 years later, the country's women played in their first FIFA Women's World Cup finals

The story of women's football in England is made all the remarkable considering that in December 1921, the English Football Association banned women from playing on league grounds as, citing "complaints" and claiming: "The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged."

In May 1971, almost 50 years later, this ban was lifted and, in November 1972, England played their first international against Scotland, winning 3-2. Twenty years later, the first women's league was launched in the country and over the next four years, the FA assumed responsibility for all aspects of the women's game.
Since then, women's football has grown to become the top female sport in England. The profile of the women's game in England received a timely boost with the hosting of UEFA EURO 2005, which attracted 115,816 fans. There is no doubt that the FA's plans have helped to create a strong national team, widely tipped to be a surprise package at China 2007.

Qualification
When England were drawn in a group which included France and the Netherlands, few neutral observers expected them to qualify, particularly given that they failed to progress beyond the group stages at EURO 2005. The omens did not look good in their first qualifying match in Amstetten when Natascha Celouch put Austria ahead after 20 minutes. Yet that strike proved to be one of only two conceded by England during their entire qualifying campaign.

A Fara Williams penalty restored parity three minutes later and before the final whistle blew, Kelly Smith, Amanda Barr and Sue Smith had put the result beyond doubt. The next match in Hungary on 27 October 2005 saw eight players put their names on the scoresheet as England recorded the biggest win in the national team's history to move three points clear at the top of Group 5.

Buoyed by the emphatic scoreline, Powell's side then travelled to the Netherlands for a crucial match in Zwolle. Once again, England were indebted to Everton midfielder Williams, who kept her nerve from the spot for the third time in as many games. A crowd of 12,164 then turned up at Ewood Park, the home of Blackburn Rovers, for the next match against France, which ended goalless.

Three successive home victories over Austria, Hungary and the Netherlands followed, witnessing England hit ten goals without reply before the all-important deciding match with France in Rennes on 30 September 2006.
There, Powell's side claimed the point they required after they went ahead after 63 minutes when Hoda Lattaf deflected a Rachel Yankey free-kick into her own net. France fought back and equalized through substitute Ludivine Diguelman with just one minute of normal time remaining, setting up a tense finish. However, England stood firm and booked their place alongside Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden as the European qualifiers for the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Coach
Hope Powell was appointed as the first ever full-time national coach of the women's team in June 1998. An experienced international with 66 caps for England and 35 goals, she is the youngest-ever England coach and the first female to be given the job. Powell first played football with Millwall Lionesses at the age of 11 and won the FA Women's Cup three times, including the league and cup double as captain of Croydon in 1996.

She is a fully qualified 'A' License coach and in 2003 became the first woman to achieve the UEFA Pro License - the highest coaching award available. Her achievements to date include taking the U-19s to the semi-finals of the 2002 and 2003 UEFA Women's Championship and to the quarter-finals of the inaugural FIFA U-19 World Championship in 2002 - the same year in which she was awarded an OBE in the Queen's birthday honours list.
As well as leading the Three Lions to China 2007, Powell also coached the senior team to qualification for the 2001 UEFA European Championship Finals in her first major championship as manager and, in June 2005, narrowly failed to take England into the semi-finals of the European Championship on home soil.

FIFA Women's World Cup history

  • China 2007 will be England's second appearance at the FIFA Women's World Cup finals.

  • At Sweden 1995, they played four matches, winning two and losing two.

  • The Three Lions enjoyed 3-2 victories over Nigeria and Canada, but suffered defeats to Norway (2-0) and Germany (3-0).

What they said...
"It's every footballer's dream to play in a World Cup. To represent your country at the highest possible level is any player's ultimate ambition. Every team who have qualified from Europe have a chance to win it. Our first target is to make it out of the group stages. Obviously, Germany and the USA are the favourites, but I am extremely confident that we can do well," England left-back, Rachel Unitt.