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Hope for England

Lance Hardy | 17:02 UK time, Friday, 21 September 2007

Twenty four matches down, eight to go in the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup and England are still there!

I wrote last week of the effect qualifying from the World Cup group stage could mean for women's football in this country and Hope Powell's side got there in style on Monday with a comfortable 6-1 victory over Argentina to set up a quarter-final clash against the pre-tournament favourites USA in Tianjin tomorrow (kick off 1300 BST - live on BBC One).

I think it's the closest match to call of all four quarter-finals and England definitely have a chance to create history and reach the World Cup semi-finals for the first time.

Kelly Smith, who is fast emerging as one of the stars of the tournament, spent eight years in America first learning her trade and then playing on the professional circuit with Philadelphia Charge - and will be desperate to help put England through to the last four.

kellysmith438.jpg

Kelly is also currently tied with two other world greats, Birgit Prinz of Germany and Marta of Brazil for the Golden Shoe top goalscorer award with four goals.

While England have impressed - particularly in the hard-fought goalless draw against Germany - USA have struggled to find their true form. They could easily have lost in their opening match against Korea DPR and topped Group B courtesy of a narrow 1-0 win over 100-1 outsiders Nigeria.

But Greg Ryan's side are capable of much more than their performances have so far suggested. Abby Wambach - with three goals already - and veteran Kristine Lilly can get goals and it is a growing concern for England fans that the three goals they have conceded so far in this tournament have all come from free-kicks.

Stastically USA look awesome. They have an unbeaten record of 50 matches (over 90 minutes) which dates back to 2004, have never failed to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup and are currently ranked as the best team in the world.

But England have developed so much since Euro 2005. They qualified for the World Cup unbeaten - finishing above France, who are ranked sixth in the world - and have held Germany and Japan (ranked second and tenth - England are ranked 12th) in China.

Of course, the knock-out matches now offer the possibility of extra-time and penalties. I have witnessed only one England women's penalty shoot-out since I started covering the sport and they lost - against China in the 2005 Algarve Cup. I would prefer not to ponder another England penalty shoot-out exit at the quarter-final stage of a major tournament...

Fara Williams is the regular England penalty taker and she is suspended for the match after collecting a second booking on Monday. Katie Chapman will replace her with possibly one more change to the side that faced Argentina up front.

Just a note to say that you can watch all remaining matches live on the BBC. Our coverage of England v USA follows Football Focus on BBC One at 1245 on Saturday. Germany v Korea DPR will be shown at 1000 on Saturday on BBCi with Norway v China and Brazil v Australia on BBCi at 1000 and 1300 on Sunday. And, of course, you can also watch the matches on the BBC website.

Both semi-finals, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, kick off at 1300 and will be shown live on BBC Two. Should England progress, they will play Brazil or Australia in Wuhan on Thursday.

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