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Nerves, courage and a hopeful win for Powell

Lance Hardy | 14:30 UK time, Saturday, 15 September 2007

So, England stand poised to clinch a place in the quarter-finals of the Women's World Cup - can our nerves stand it?

Friday's courageous goalless draw against world champions Germany means that a two-goal win over Argentina - who are bottom of Group A and out of the competition - in Chengdu on Monday will earn Hope Powell's side a place in the last eight, and the likelihood of a meeting with the tournament favourites, USA, in Tianjin next Saturday.

Argentina were brushed aside by an emphatic German performance in the opening match which produced 11 goals with no reply, but they were unlucky to lose against Japan with an injury time winner from Yuki Nagasato, so it's hard to predict how they will perform against England.

What is for sure is that Argentina have now played two goalkeepers in this tournament and both have made crucial mistakes. Should England create anywhere near the 19 chances they did against Japan, then surely they should be OK.

Provided England do their job and get the required two-goal win, qualification is assured; a one-goal win would also be enough unless Germany and Japan draw - and should that happen then things get complicated!

In that scenario, England, Germany and Japan would each have five points with a win against Argentina and two draws. Germany would win the group on account of that 11-0 opening win and a superior goal difference leaving England and Japan level. With goal difference identical, qualification would then be decided by goals scored. So in that regard, a 2-1 win and a 0-0 draw for Japan would put England through, but a 1-0 win and a 1-1 draw in Hangzhou would put England out.

England's Faye White fights for the ball with German Birgit Prinz

Should England beat Argentina 1-0 and Japan draw 0-0 with Germany - identical results to the two matches played in Shanghai on Friday, then the fairplay system would decide the second qualifying spot and England currently trail Japan by three bookings to one in that area. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

The important factor for England is that their destiny is now in their own hands, and with Argentina already out of the tournament, their opponents will be playing only for pride. The good news for England is that after drawing twice against teams placed higher in the world rankings, they now meet a side ranked some 17 places below them. But don't underestimate the pride factor - that 11-0 defeat hurt the Argentines - that was clear from their approach against Japan yesterday.

As for winning the group, it's unlikely. If Germany beat Japan they will top Group A and if Japan beat Germany they will top Group A. The only way England can do so is if Germany and Japan draw and England better Germany's 11-0 victory.

England need to win. Full stop. It would be heartbreaking if they failed to do so, given that Monday's match comes on the back of possibly the best result ever recorded by the national women's team. Hope Powell made seven positional changes against Germany and her tactics proved to be spot on - every member of the team played their hearts out and captain Faye White and Katie Chapman were outstanding.

Truly world class players such as Birgit Prinz, Kerstin Garefrekes and Sandra Smisek - a trio with 172 international goals between them - were kept quiet by a battling defence and combative midfield and the one breakthrough they did manage was brilliantly blocked by the right foot of goalkeeper Rachel Brown.

It should not be underestimated just how big a result that draw against Germany is - and could prove to be - for women's football in this country. It came in the biggest tournament of them all, against the biggest name of them all - a team who held a record of 15 wins in 16 matches against England going into the match.

I have been watching the England women's team since 2002. I saw a narrow two-leg World Cup qualification semi-final play-off win over Iceland - our studio guest Karen Walker got two goals in Reyjkavik - and then witnessed the subsequent play-off final defeat against France in St Etienne. The England performance that day was disappointing, the crowd - all 28,000 of them were amazing - it was a real eye-opener. From that moment on, England have steadily closed the gap on the best in world football.

After that defeat in France, England was awarded the 2005 European Championship - and what a show that turned out to be! Almost 30,000 fans were at the City of Manchester Stadium to see young Karen Carney strike home an injury-time winner in the opening 3-2 win over Finland to kick-start the tournament in style. But then frustration and ultimately more disappointment set in, as narrow defeats against Denmark - a match England led with ten minutes left - and Sweden meant an exit at the group stage. An acculmative audience of 8.2m viewers watched those three matches live on BBC TWO.

The spirit shown by England since Women's Euro 2005 has been admirable. They topped their World Cup qualifying group from day one: I saw a record-breaking 13-0 win over Hungary by the beautiful shores of Lake Balaton in Tapolca - where our other studio guest Jo Potter grabbed her first goal for England - and the team went from strength to strength. They never lost top spot and battling a 0-0 draw against France in Blackburn and a gritty 1-1 draw in Rennes last September meant no more disappointments as they claimed their place in the world finals for the first time in 12 years.

Karen Walker played and scored in the 1995 World Cup - the last time England qualified. She has told me about the nerves, excitement and also the knowledge of what success could ultimately mean to the women's game in this country. I think it's fair to say that we all now feel it: come on England!

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