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Defeat shouldn't mask England's progress

Jacqui Oatley | 07:11 UK time, Friday, 11 September 2009

An hour after the final whistle in Helsinki, I sit at my laptop in the press box surrounded by confetti in the colours of Germany's black and gold.

Through my headphones I hear Kelly Smith's interview as it's being filed back to London, her words drowned out by the familiar sound of raucous, jubilant Germans. We've been here before. Two years ago, four years ago, etc.

So what's changed? Not much from a German point of view. Five European titles in a row, it's now 19 games without defeat against England. Not too much tweaking is required by them. But what, if anything, will this change for Hope Powell's side?

hopepowell595.jpgHope Powell's team fell at the final hurdle

First things first - despite the painful ending, there's no doubt this has been a successful tournament for them.

Four years ago I was commentating on England finishing bottom of their group at Euro 2005 on home soil.

Two years ago, England lost to the United States in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and returned home to find they'd only be paid the equivalent of £40 per day for their efforts.

They told me they'd have to work extra hours to make up for the shortfall in their income and their training programmes - which they'd so strictly followed in the build-up to the World Cup - could no longer be a priority. Progress? Hardly.

But two years on, the players have just told me after their first major final what a massive impact the new central contracts have played in their progress.

While six of the squad are full-time professionals in the United States, others are now paid £16,000 a year by the FA to enable them to train and recover in a way that other elite athletes do.

The benefits of a relatively small investment have been evident for all to see. So should we all pat Hope Powell and her players on the back, say "hard luck against those pesky Germans and better luck next time"? If we just did that, it would mean we've learnt nothing from history.

A thriving women's game was stopped in its tracks all the way back in 1921. Startled by its rising popularity, the FA decided to effectively ban women from playing football for 50 years saying, "...the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged." It was 1971 before the ban was lifted.

People forget this key fact when wondering why England are still trailing behind the Germans and Americans (though they've caught up with the Scandinavians).

England captain Faye White said that when the FA deferred the women's Super League by a year, the players said, "oh here we go again". They have become resigned to being let down by those in a position to give them a long-overdue leg up.

This is the FA board's chance to continue to make amends for the actions of their predecessors.

I spoke to new FA chief executive Ian Watmore at half time during our 5 live sports extra commentary on Thursday night. He was extremely positive about the women's game, said he wanted to prove it by his actions and was "convinced" the Super League would get the go-ahead in the next few weeks.

This group of players have done their bit. FA, it's over to you to make sure this latest opportunity to make a real difference is not lost and I'm not blogging about the same subject after the Germans have won the World Cup again in two years' time.


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