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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 August 2007, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Women target Olympic spot
By Claire Stocks

England and Arsenal striker Kelly Smith
Smith has scored 21 goals in 61 appearances for England
England's Kelly Smith has set her sights on playing for the first British football team to compete at the modern Olympic Games.

If England finish in the top three European sides at this year's World Cup in China, they could earn a Britain a spot at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

"It would be amazing to say one had played in a World Cup and an Olympics," 28-year-old Smith told BBC Sport.

"It would show the game is progressing - to get the best players together under one umbrella would be fantastic."

Smith, named on Wednesday in the 21-woman England squad going to the World Cup, said she would love to play alongside her Arsenal team-mates, Wales captain Jayne Ludlow and Scotland striker Julie Fleeting, in a GB side.

Britain won the first Olympic men's football tournament in 1908 but has not competed at the Games since 1960, while there has never been a British women's entry.

There is resistance among the home nations' Football Associations to a GB team of either gender.

However, the British Olympic Association has said one will be formed for the London Games in 2012 - and a good performance by the women's team at this year's World Cup would force the issue sooner.

England are one of five European countries competing in the 16-team World Cup in China in September.

Despite the fact that they are the lowest in the Fifa rankings - 12th, compared to Denmark (fifth), Norway (fourth), Sweden (third) and Germany (second) - Smith is very positive about their chances.

"It is the first time we have qualified since 1995 and shows how far this side has come," she added.

England and Arsenal striker Kelly Smith
Smith was a key player in the Quadruple-winning Arsenal side

"We are not just there to make up the numbers. We have always said our aim is to get out of the group and then anything can happen."

On paper, England have a good chance of making it to the knockout stage - it will be hard to beat reigning champions Germany to top spot in Group A but a second-place finish above Japan (ranked 10th) and Argentina (29th) is achievable.

If they do, however, they will more than likely face a quarter-final tie against either the United States or Sweden. They would have to win that game to stand a realistic chance of finishing in the top three European nations.

But Smith is confident, especially if they come up against Sweden, who were runners-up in 2003 but are in transition after the retirements of key players such as Malin Mostrom as well as injuries to goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson and star striker Hanna Ljungberg.

"They are a top European team but there has been a lot of change in recent years and a lot of experienced players have left," stated Smith.

Smith also says a lot has changed within the England camp since a 1-0 defeat by Sweden at the European Championship in Manchester in 2005 cost the side a place in the knockout stages.

Japan v England: 11 Sept, 1300 BST, Shanghai
England v Germany: 14 Sept, 1300 BST, Shanghai
England v Argentina: 18 Sept, 1000 BST, Chengdu
England's games will be live on BBC Two

It was especially disappointing, given the interest the team had generated on home soil, with 2.9m watching the opening game on BBC Two.

Smith continued: "It has always been a close game between us and we feel like we are bound to do something against another European side. We beat Norway last year, so now is the time for this team to shine.

"There were a lot of nerves on the pitch in that 2005 game. Most of today's core England team played in that match and it would be fair to say if we did come up against them we would be looking for revenge."

Smith, 28, is confident the squad, only one of whom - defender Mary Phillip - has been to a World Cup before, has now matured to such an extent it can cause an upset.

She says improved physical fitness, increased experience among the top players - many of whom play at Arsenal - and team "togetherness", fostered by working with a sports psychologist, have combined to give them a new edge.

"The team is now much stronger emotionally," said Smith. "Hopefully that means we can take the next step, which we weren't able to do in 2005.

"We have a number of players now who have played in big games, for instance with Arsenal in the Uefa Cup.

Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey celebrate England's qualification for the World Cup following a draw with France in 2006
Smith celebrates the draw v France which sealed their World Cup spot

"We have players who are used to winning things, winners who are hungry to succeed."

Smith says if England do manage to outperform their ranking and do something special in China, it could dramatically enhance the domestic game.

Women's football needs a lift, after the recent blow of Charlton - the top English side behind Arsenal - closing down their women's team following the men's relegation from the Premier League.

"If we could do wonders at this World Cup who knows what it could do for the game in this country. If we got to the semi-final or even the final it might change the face of the game here," commented Smith.

"The game in Sweden and Germany and the USA is more developed, partly because their international teams have earned it through success on the international stage. So it is partly up to us to achieve things at the top level."

Smith, who works at Arsenal's girls Academy, takes her role as a pioneer helping develop the sport seriously.

She revealed: "I started playing football aged six. But when I was a kid I never had a role model. There were only men. I knew there was an England women's team but I did not know who the players were, or when they played, or how to find out.

"We need faces to move the game on as Mia Hamm did in the USA and Birgit Prinz has done in Germany.

"Faye White (England captain and fellow Arsenal team-mate), Rachel Yankey (also at Arsenal) and I seem to have taken on that role as leaders of the team - whether via the FA pushing us or our performances on the pitch, I don't know.

"But it can only be good to get the team more exposure and try to one day become household names."

BBC Sport is covering the Women's World Cup, 10-30 September. England's games will be live on BBC Two.
Match schedule

Powell reveals women's Cup squad
08 Aug 07 |  Football
GB football team to enter Games
30 Sep 06 |  Olympics 2012
Ludlow demands more Wales funding
11 May 07 |  Internationals


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