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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 17:39 GMT
England Women ready for warm-ups
By Tony Leighton

England coach Hope Powell
Powell is looking for good performances from her squad
England coach Hope Powell is challenging her players to stake their claims for World Cup places as they head into friendlies against Russia, Scotland and Holland.

For the hectic seven-day programme, which she is approaching as though it were the group stage of a tournament, Powell has named a squad of 30.

But that will be cut down to 21 for September's finals in China.

And despite having a settled squad over the last two years, the national coach is hoping to see new contenders emerging to push the established players.

Ahead of Thursday's meeting with Russia at Milton Keynes, Powell said: "Places for the finals are up for grabs and I want to see players taking their opportunities.

"We'll be treating these three testing matches as a tournament situation because that's what we'll be facing when we get to China.

"In that respect the players who went to the China Cup in January acquitted themselves well and we got a couple of good results.

"But that doesn't guarantee anyone a place for the finals, and hopefully a star or two in the making will pop up in these next three games to make a challenge."

ENGLAND'S FRIENDLIES
v Russia, Thursday 8 March
v Scotland, Sunday 11 March
v Holland, Wednesday 14 March

After starting the build-up to the finals with China Cup games against America, Germany and the host nation, England's forthcoming opponents should not prove as tough.

If precedents are anything to go by then Russia, who England are yet to beat having played them three times, will be the most difficult.

Scotland, who Powell's team face at Wycombe Wanderers' ground on Sunday, have been beaten in 18 of the 19 games so far played between the two nations.

And Holland, who provide the opposition at Swindon Town's stadium next Wednesday (14 March), have come out on top only twice in 12 meetings.

A 4-1 win in last August's World Cup qualifier at Charlton Athletic was the fifth successive time that England had beaten the Dutch under Powell.

But the coach warned: "Holland have historically given us a hard time.

"The win at Charlton was probably our best performance of our qualifying campaign - everything clicked into place and things went for us on the night.

"But Holland will prepare differently this time round and we must be ready for a battle.

"Likewise against Scotland, who we are always expected to beat. That puts pressure on the players, but that's good - we'll be in a pressure situation at the World Cup and we're trying to get the players used to that.

"Russia, as we've found out over the last few years, are a very difficult side to play against and so that game's going to be a real challenge as well.

"I'm looking forward to it, the players are too - and hopefully we'll end these matches that much more prepared to compete at the World Cup finals."


England squad: Brown (Everton), Chamberlain (Bristol Academy), Telford (Sunderland), Unitt (Everton), Johnson (Everton), Phillip (Arsenal), Stoney (Charlton Athletic), Scott (Arsenal), White (Arsenal), Bassett (Birmingham City), Houghton (Sunderland), Yorston (Bristol Academy), Asante (Arsenal), Scott (Everton), Williams (Everton), Exley (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Chapman (Arsenal), K Smith (Arsenal), Westwood (Everton), McDougall (Everton), Holtham (Charlton Athletic), Handley (Everton), Carney (Arsenal), Sanderson (Arsenal), Aluko (Charlton), S Smith (Leeds United), Yankey (Arsenal), Potter (Charlton Athletic), Barr (Leeds United).

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