Women's Euro 2013: Can England go one better than four years ago?

 

England coach Hope Powell might not admit it, but there is a genuine feeling in the camp that the Lionesses can turn silver into gold at Euro 2013.

Four years ago, her team reached the Women's European Championship final, only to be thrashed 6-2 by seven-time winners Germany.

It was a crushing disappointment, which was followed by England being knocked out of the 2011 World Cup at the quarter-final stage by France. Some players were allegedly accused of "cowardice" for not stepping forward to take penalties in the shoot-out defeat.

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Jordan Nobbs

The experienced players

  • Rachel Yankey - 127 caps
  • Kelly Smith - 113 caps
  • Fara Williams - 114 caps
  • Casey Stoney - 110 caps
  • Alex Scott - 98 caps

The 2009 U-19 Euros winners

  • Toni Duggan - 8 caps
  • Jordan Nobbs (above) - 6 caps
  • Jade Moore - 5 caps
  • Lucy Bronze - 1 cap
  • Gemma Bonner - 0 caps

Now, the Football Association's planning and preparation is all geared to England playing six matches, starting with Spain, Russia and France in Group C.

Powell, who has been in the job for 15 years, says she is uncertain about her future after this tournament.

While admitting she can be "tough and hard" on her players, she says it is only because she recognises their potential to succeed.

"I think I demand more as a manager these days because I recognise that we have a talented bunch of players," Powell told BBC Sport. "We haven't actually won anything.

"I think we are quite close but I also think we are a million miles away sometimes, so I'm never satisfied. I don't think I should be and I don't think the players should be.

"If they perform well they have a good chance of doing well."

Despite a disappointing warm-up defeat by Sweden, the general feeling is that the squad is significantly stronger than in 2009 and 2011, complete with several exciting youngsters who are desperate to make an impression.

So, having reached the final four years ago, what are England's chances this summer?

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"I really think they can win it," said England international Sue Smith, who will be a BBC pundit during the tournament.

"I know the team and Hope are being quite cagey, and using the old cliche of taking one game at a time, but I think this is one of the strongest squads that we have ever had."

While Germany will start as favourites, England - along with France and hosts Sweden - are widely regarded as one of four teams who could triumph.

Assuming Powell's team negotiate a tricky group, though, there are several issues which could puncture that optimism: injuries to high-profile players; reigning champions Germany; and getting past the quarter-final barrier, which proved too much for the team in the World Cup and for many of the squad in Team GB's loss to Canada  at the same stage in the London Olympics.

Injuries are a particular bugbear of Powell, 46, but it is an issue which has been hard to avoid.

Record goalscorer Kelly Smith, skipper Casey Stoney and left-back Steph Houghton are three of five players who have suffered problems in the build-up, but it seems that most are recovering well. Defender Sophie Bradley, meanwhile, injured her ankle in a warm-up defeat by hosts Sweden last week.

Ex-captain Faye White, who is also part of the BBC's team in Sweden, believes the strength of the squad will mean that England can cope.

England suffer a heavy Euro 2013 warm-up defeat by Sweden

She also thinks recent games demonstrate that they can deal without Smith, who has often been their linchpin in the past and could be playing in her last major tournament.

"Kelly is a key player but there is no one player that makes a team," White said. "In recent months and certainly in the last two games against Japan [where England beat and drew with the world champions] and against the major teams such as France back in October, Kelly wasn't playing and the team put in a convincing performance.

"In the past, the XI that were selected would have been asked to play all the games, certainly in the 2007 World Cup and maybe in the 2009 Euros.

"Now, there are four or five in the squad who are around the 100-cap mark. On top of that we have younger players coming through that have better experience and in recent months have come in and had a big impact. Five of the squad were European champions at under-19 level in 2009 - we didn't have that back-up four years ago."

England's Group C fixtures

  • 12 July: v Spain, Linkoping
  • 15 July: v Russia, Linkoping
  • 18 July: v France, Linkoping

White is more cautious than Smith when it comes to surveying England's overall chances, but there may be some solace in the fact that Powell's side are not the only team who have been hampered in the build-up.

Germany have won the last five tournaments but there has been a changing of the guard as key players, including record goalscorer Birgit Prinz - who scored twice in the 2009 final - have retired. Coach Silvia Neid's side have also been badly affected by injury problems, with six players pulling out of the tournament.

Should England finish second in their group, there is a fair chance they could face Germany in the quarter-finals.

White, however, believes England are not overawed by anyone.

She said: "The team has learnt to believe in their ability a lot more and that has come from getting good results against top teams.

"England have become hard to beat but gradually over the last few years, we have improved our attacking ability and finished our chances better. When the pressure is off, we excel but in the latter stages we need to bring the same game when the pressure is on.

"It's about having the right mentality to produce when it counts. You just need that extra belief when it comes to the knockout stages."

Women's Euro 2013

  • Host nation: Sweden
  • Dates: 10 July - 28 July

Coverage: All of England's matches will be broadcast live on BBC TV, BBC Radio 5 live or 5 live Sports Extra and BBC Sport website; 16 games shown live on BBC, with 14 games on BBC Three and two on BBC Two & BBC Two HD. Live text commentary on England games on website.