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banner Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Coultard cautious over England hopes
Former England captain Gill Coultard
Gill Coultard enjoyed a distinguished England career
By BBC Sport Online's women's football correspondent Tony Leighton

England will have their work cut out to get beyond the group stage of the European Championships finals, says former captain Gill Coultard.

But the recently-retired Doncaster Belles defender insists no-one will relish meeting Hope Powell's team at the eight-nation tournament in Germany.

Coultard, who made a record 119 appearances for England, skippered the side in the early stages of a Euro 2001 qualifying campaign which saw them reach the finals of a major tournament for the first time is six years.

England coach Hope Powell
Hope Powell's side generate respect

Having since called time on her distinguished playing career, she has been monitoring the progress of her old team mates and will be watching with keen interest as they take on Russia, current champions Germany and former winners Sweden in a tough first round group.

With the top two teams in the group stepping into the semi-finals, Coultard said: "It will be a fantastic achievement for us to reach the semis.

"I would love to see the girls do it, but it's going to be a massive challenge for them.

"The starting line-up is largely inexperienced, especially in tournament football, and in a key area like central midfield we are lacking in height.

"That could be crucial against sides like Germany and Russia.

"Sweden are just starting their domestic season so they will be fresh and raring to go, whereas we finished a long, hard season a month or so ago and the girls have had no competitive match practise since then apart from the friendly against Scotland.

The Germany game is going to be the biggest test of all
  Gill Coultard
"Having said that, they are a team that other nations around Europe do respect.

"I was talking to an old German opponent recently and she was saying they won't relish playing England, despite their excellent record against us.

"We are a hard, well-organised team who might just achieve something in the finals if we can get some breaks.

"The first match, against Russia, is vital. If we can win that one, it will breathe confidence into the team and we can move on from there.

"If we could then hold our own against Sweden it would come down to the Germany game, which is going to be the biggest test of all.

"They've beaten us every time we've played them to date - but wouldn't this be a great time to end that run?"

As well as their zero record against the Germans, England have not fared too well in the past against Sweden, while they have never met Russia (though the USSR were beaten on three of the five occasions the two nations met).

Bitter disappointment

Coultard was a fresh-faced newcomer to the England side when Sweden were defeated for the only time in 12 attempts, the 1-0 victory coming at Luton Town in the second leg of the 1984 Euro final.

Sweden had won the first leg 1-0 and they subsequently won the Kenilworth Road penalty shoot-out 4-3.

It was as close as England have ever come to winning a major crown and Coultard clearly remembers the bitter disappointment.

We are going to Germany as underdogs, so we've got nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain
  Gill Coultard

"I'd only just come on to the international scene," she said.

"Losing on penalties was devastating. Mind you, they should have beaten us by three or four goals in the first leg and the game at Luton was played in dreadful conditions.

"At that stage of my career, I thought I'd probably get another chance to play in a big final, but then Sweden knocked us out in the 1987 European semi-final and we lost to Germany in both the 1994 European semi and the 1995 World Cup quarter final.

"So to see us drawn in the same group as those two at Euro 2001 gave me mixed feelings - on the one hand I thought 'oh no, not again'; but on the other hand I felt 'go on girls - just go for it!'

"And that's what we have to do - we are going to Germany as underdogs, so we've got nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain.

"It's certainly going to be a big stepping stone for the youngsters, and I hope they can make the most of the opportunity."

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19 Jun 01 |  Womens Euro 2001
Award is timely boost for Smith
19 Jun 01 |  Womens Euro 2001
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