London 2012: England striker Kelly Smith eyes Team GB gold

After a 16-year international career, three European Championships and two World Cups, England striker Kelly Smith has a new target in her sights - Olympic gold.

Smith, who now plays her club football in the USA, believes that Great Britain have a great chance to make the top step of the podium at the Games this summer.

"I want to win a gold medal," the 33-year-old tells BBC Sport. "I've come close and got a silver at the Euros but that's not good enough.

"To stand on that podium with a gold medal around my neck would be the ultimate."

ANALYSIS

Kelly Smith has been the star of the England show for many a year but this is her greatest, and possibly last, chance to shine on the world stage. A Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) survey found that only 17% of sports fans know who Smith is - a travesty, yet a sign of the lack of recognition of England's most popular female sport. Smith has rarely, if ever, been fully fit for a major international tournament. If fortune favours her this time, she can inspire the Great Britain team all the way to the podium and into the public eye

Her international coach Hope Powell will manage the combined team of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Smith says she will have a strong squad to choose from.

"I'm sure every player that earns the right to represent GB at the Olympics will want to win and bring home a gold medal," says Smith.

"We have a good chance as there are so many good players to choose from in the United Kingdom and it gives them the chance to come together for a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Smith moved to the east coast of the United States with Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) club Boston Breakers in 2009 , after a successful spell at Arsenal.

"I was excited to play professionally again," she adds. "I love training in a competitive environment day in day out. I knew the level of play would be amazing with the top internationals and USA national team players that were being signed, and I couldn't turn the opportunity down."

On this side of the Atlantic, it has been a huge season for women's football in the UK with the launch of the Women's Super League (WSL) back in April and the Uefa Champions League final being held at Fulham's Craven Cottage in May.

Smith - who was made an MBE in 2008 for services to women's football - has played her part throughout the development of the sport as a regular in the England side since 1995, when she made her full senior debut in a 1-1 draw against Italy aged just 17.

Since then she has made the number 10 shirt her own, competing in the 2001, 2005, and 2009 European Championships - winning a silver medal last time in a 6-2 defeat by Germany - as well as the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.

Kelly Smith Factfile

  • Born: 29 October 1978
  • Place of birth: Watford, England
  • Playing position: Striker
  • Former clubs:-
  • 1994-1996 Wembley
  • 1996-1997 Arsenal
  • 1997-1999 Seton Hall Pirates
  • 1999-2000 New Jersey Lady Stallions
  • 2001-2003 Philadelphia Charge
  • 2004 New Jersey Wildcats
  • 2005-2009 Arsenal
  • 2009-Present Boston Breakers

England went out in heartbreaking fashion in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup to France , and although she has struggled with a niggling Achilles problem since the tournament ended Smith remains confident her injury days are now firmly behind her.

"I've had a break and rested my body from the Women's Professional Soccer season and I've also enjoyed some time off over Christmas," Smith said.

"Pre-season has started and I'm back on my training programme with England to get me ready for the WPS, upcoming England games and the Olympics."

Even though Smith is one of the first names on the the England team sheet, she is not yet guaranteed a place in Team GB, despite confirming to BBC Sport she had received an invitation to make herself available for the tournament.

It will be the first time a combined women's team from Great Britain has taken part at the Olympic Games and letters have been sent out to a list of eligible players already been chosen by Team GB's coaching staff.

England women currently lie eighth in Fifa's world rankings  , with Scotland 22nd, Northern Ireland 29th and Wales 46th. World Cup runners-up the United States are number one in the world ahead of Germany.

However, on the men's side Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not want their players to take part amid fears that the three countries' could have their independence questioned in the future by Fifa.

I think it's great that we can compete as Great Britain for such a great event and then also stand alone as separate countries

Kelly Smith

The issue was highlighted in the women's game in June with the news that Scotland's record cap holder Julie Fleeting had ruled herself out of playing in the tournament for that reason.

"It's been well documented by certain nations they do not want to be a part of it and are fearful of losing there individual status, but most players would jump at the opportunity to play on such a stage against the best teams in the world," says Smith.

"I think it's great that we can compete as Great Britain for such a great event and then also stand alone as separate countries."

When all of the players' responses have been received, Powell will compile a shortlist of players in March and announce her final squad in July, and Smith has every faith that the coach will pick the right players to take on the best teams in the world.

"She knows the game so well and has so much experience and knowledge of other teams. She will certainly have a great squad of players."

And Smith adds: "It's on home soil. The crowd will be willing us on. The Olympics is such a massive event people will want to come out and watch. I think it will be a massive boost and give us an extra advantage."

England go out of the 2011 World Cup after losing 4-3 to France on penalties