Veterans Faye White and Kelly Smith insisted today that hopes of winning the FIFA Women's World Cup were no longer just a dream for England. England topped Group B to advance to the last eight for the third time where they will clash with long-time rivals France, who qualified second from Group A, tomorrow evening.
France are a team which England have not beaten in 37 years, but Smith believes they have the measure of their rivals. "We feel we're getting better and better. France are an excellent side but we're also coming into our own with the three games we played," said Smith, England's leading all time scorer with 43 goals. "I don't think we're looking at the statistics. We last played them in 2007, got a draw which put us through to the World Cup, that was the last international match against them."
Smith, 32, said that two-time champions Germany were the obvious favourites. "Germany are looking strong at the moment and being at home and with the support of the crowd they have a 12th player as they say. We've proved over the last few months beating the USA, Sweden and now Japan that on any day we can beat anyone," added Smith, the first English player to feature in America's professional league with Boston Breakers.
Skipper White said England were in top form with no injury worries after drawing 1-1 with Mexico before beating New Zealand 2-1 and Japan 2-0. "Some would say we didn't start the tournament really strong but we've got better," said 33-year-old White. "You dream about it and you believe otherwise I don't think there's any point going in there. The Japan game was huge for us."
We feel we're getting better and better. France are an excellent side but we're also coming into our own.
But they face a stiff task against France, who kept England out of the 2003 Women's World Cup finals and are playing their first quarter-finals. The France team is made up predominately of Lyon players who won the Champions League last season, beating the Arsenal team of England stars Rachel Yankey, Faye White, Ellen White and Steph Houghton in the semi-finals.
"Having played against Lyon in the Champions League we know what they're capable of," said Faye White. "They are opponents we can't take for granted. One of my first full starts was a 3-2 loss to France (in 1998).
"I know the players well, there's a bit of history between us, we went to the 2007 World Cup on an away goal at their expense. Technically they're very good, it will be quite even, we're very similar in way they play. But we've improved a lot in the past four years. Before when we played top nations they thought we were a team they could beat easily but now they look at us in a different light. Other teams take on England now and say 'that will be a tough match'."
Although both France and England are staying in the same hotel, the Hilton in Dusseldorf, contact has been limited. "Even though we're in the same hotel we haven't seen a lot of them which is maybe a good thing," said Smith. In past clashes France have five victories to England's two, in addition to five draws, including their last three meetings.