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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
Hope and glory?
England women's team
Was the England women's team World Cup campaign a success?

By Alistair Magowan

Before the Women's World Cup, England manager Hope Powell targeted the quarter-finals as a realistic target for her team.

So despite bowing out to the two-times champions USA, it could be argued that England's job was well and truly done, particularly as they established themselves as Europe's third best team behind Germany and Norway.

Television audiences were treated to four live England games, giving the team unprecedented exposure (1.7m watched the England v US match).

And in Kelly Smith, the tournament served up a talent which many viewers had not even heard of beforehand.

606: DEBATE
Alistair M - BBC Sport

Although the standard of goalkeeping has been the hot topic of the tournament, England's performance was reminiscent of the men's team but the reaction to reaching the quarter-finals could not be more contrasting.

"Didn't they do well?" seems to be the run of it but is that a fair assessment? And at what point does positive coverage become patronising?

PERFORMANCE

England were unbeaten in their group games against Japan, Germany and Argentina and eventually lost 3-0 to the USA in the quarter-finals.

But the only team they managed to beat was Argentina and the South Americans scored just once (against England) and conceded 18 goals in their three games.

ENGLAND WORLD CUP RESULTS
2-2 v Japan
0-0 v Germany
6-1 v Argentina
0-3 v USA

Hope Powell said England lacked firepower after their defeat to the USA, but it is an assessment which could be levelled at all their performances.

England's strength was their defence which showed against Germany, where they were resolute and disciplined.

But while Kelly Smith proved a stand-out player, scoring four times in all, little seemed to be done to support her going forward. Indeed against the USA she went largely missing.

Still, the overall showing was a vast improvement on the European Championships in 2005 where as host nation, England embarrassingly went out at the first stage.

PLAYERS

Powell said pre-tournament that the team were the fittest England side ever. But they needed to be.

Whilst other teams were careful to retain the ball in the stifling China heat, at times, England were working twice as hard to get it back.

Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith was cast adrift in the quarter-final against the USA

There were some fine performances from defenders such as the rock-solid Faye White and Anita Asante. Others such as forward Eniola Aluko and winger Rachel Yankey did little to help the likes of Smith in attack.

Perhaps it was the big occasion, with the prospect of so many watching worldwide? But it was clear that some players were woefully short of big-game experience.

In goal, Rachel Brown was unfortunate that her last contribution to the tournament was letting the ball bounce over her head for the USA's third goal. That belied her fantastic save to earn England a draw against Germany.

England worked well together as a team but, Smith aside, lacked any real quality to open up a decent defence.

THE MANAGER

Hope Powell has been in charge of the England team since 1998 and arguably the performance in China was her greatest achievement coming after an unbeaten qualifying campaign.

We have to ensure now this tournament is over that the support from the FA continues. We certainly need to grab this opportunity

England coach Hope Powell

England are certainly well coached, as their defensive showing attests to, but would a new face or new ideas enable England to win a knock-out game in major championships?

At times, Kelly Smith was cast adrift. Surely a team built around its best asset would have a better chance of progressing rather than hoping that a strong defensive unit would suffice?

That said, Powell's ability to get the best from a bunch who are largely part-time players should not be questioned too vigorously.

MEDIA COVERAGE

How much positive coverage does 4.5m buy?

That's the figure which the FA currently invests in girls and women's football each year. So what should we expect for that figure? Not to be critical of the woman's game at all?

That seems to have been an issue which has kept cropping up since Argentina's 11-0 demolition by Germany.

Whilst most would regard some of the goalkeeping howlers as woeful, others have tried to gloss over their severity, perhaps recognising the bigger picture.

Hope Powell
Hope Powell (right) has been in charge for nearly ten years

The World Cup has been the first time many viewers will have seen the women's game at its highest level, and as a comparison to the men's game, it simply does not come up to scratch.

But those in the women's game would argue that comparison is unfair.

Women's football is still in its infancy and the majority of those on show in China are part-time players. Nearly all of the England squad have to fit in training and playing around full-time jobs.

"We've put on a good display throughout the tournament and we'll learn a lot from it," Powell said.

No doubt the organisers will too, and consider the wisdom of pitting Germany against Argentina in the opening fixture.

ENGLAND'S FUTURE

The tournament has been seen as a stepping stone to what, hopefully, will be a more experienced England side which can compete with the bigger teams such as the USA and Germany.

And in confirming they are Europe's third best team, Powell has a legitimate claim that England should be part of the Olympics in Beijing next year.

It will also provide the FA with a key dilemma as to what they must do next. Particularly as they are set to receive an extra 125m from FA Cup and England TV deals over the next four years.

Although the England team is largely successful, it has been in spite of the domestic league rather than because of it.

The folding of Charlton Ladies, once one of the most successful teams, sums up the current state of the women's Premier League.

FA Chief Executive Brian Barwick is in favour of playing in the summer but realistically, will that make the game more competitive with the prospect of a new professional league in the USA looming? And will it benefit the national side?

More effective might be the idea of issuing central contracts, already used by the US team.

As Kelly Smith says: "They are training with the ball every day and playing as a team, whereas we are not anywhere close to them in terms of their salaries so it is a little bit frustrating.

"What would happen if we did have that money coming in, how far could we possibly go?"

It seems that until a decision is made, England might have to be content with reaching the knock-out stage come the World Cup in 2011.



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