Dawn of a new era
Marieanne Spacey's retirement from international football signals a new era for the England women's team as coach Hope Powell turns her attention from Euro 2001 to building for the future with her impressive new breed of young stars.
The emergence of players such as Fulham teenager Katie Chapman, coupled with the retirement of Arsenal veteran Spacey, symbolised the sea change which is taking place in the England women's team.
There were emotional scenes when 35 year old Spacey told team mates of her decision as the England squad travelled home from Germany after going out of the Women's European Championship at the group stage.
The iconic striker had watched Saturday's 3-0 defeat by Germany from the substitutes' bench. The result condemned England to an early exit from the eight-nation tournament but didn't reflect how well they played against the reigning European champions.
And while England's best known player was set to step off the international stage after winning 91 caps, 19 year old central defender Chapman was starring in a back four whose average age was just 20.
Like Spacey, the former Millwall Lionesses player made her senior international debut at 18 - and at Euro 2001 she came of age, showing a maturity beyond her years as the finest of England's rich batch of teenage talent.
Spacey said: "We've got so many good young players now that it would be unfair of me to carry on collecting caps and preventing youngsters from coming through.
"I've had a great England career and this is the right time to close it, after winning the treble with Arsenal in our best ever season and at the end of a major tournament where we finished on a high in spite of a misleading scoreline on Saturday.
"When the side goes back to Germany for our World Cup qualifier I really believe we can get a result against a top nation which has always beaten us in the past.
"I'll be retiring for good at the end of next season, when I have one more playing challenge with Arsenal - competing in the first season of the Women's European Cup.
"But I'll be keeping my England links, helping with the coaching of the Under 16 team as an additional role to my duties as the Hertfordshire development officer for girls' and women's football."
Spacey decided to call time after winning her 91st cap in England's second Euro 2001 group game against Sweden. With former captain Gill Coultard (England's record caps-holder with 119) retiring only a few months ago and 34 year old current skipper Mo Marley also considering her future, coach Powell is looking ahead with an increasing reliance on younger players.
Under-18 and Under-16 national teams are now firmly established and, with a long-term plan aimed at having a real chance of winning the 2007 World Cup, England made positive steps along that ambitious road during Euro2001 despite a record of one draw and two defeats.
German coach Tina Theune-Meyer certainly thought so, saying after the teams met: "I was impressed with England, they are a team for the future because they have good young players.
"I like some of them very much, for instance Sue Smith, Rachel Yankey and especially Chapman who is a very good player. In a few years time they will compete with the best teams in Europe."
While Powell's team will be competing against European teams at the qualifying group stage of the World Cup, Spacey and her Arsenal colleagues will be doing so at club level in the European Cup.
The new competition, which will feature 32 clubs and gets underway in September, will be an exciting addition to the women's football calendar and hopefully engender greater interest in England's fastest growing sport.
A professional English league is planned to start in 2003-04 and, though that target may not be met, The Football Association is determined to follow the successfully launched WUSA League in America and become the trailblazers of professionalism in Europe.
If that happens it will be another boost to Powell in her bid to put England among the world's top women's football nations. Reflecting on her team's efforts at Euro 2001, while also looking ahead, she said: "With such a young team our objectives for the tournament were player development, education and game understanding.
"We would obviously have liked to go further than the group stage, but although we weren't able to do that our other objectives were achieved. We need a bit more if we are going to compete with the best in the world, but we are certainly becoming more competitive as I feel the match against Germany showed.
"We went into the game against the tournament favourites with nothing to lose and everything to play for. For the future, the fact that we've got a very youthful side means we really can look forward with optimism.
"The game has given us an insight into the way we can play against Germany, and we might have one or two tricks up our sleeve when it comes to the World Cup qualifier. That's in September, but I'm looking beyond that - and the future is looking good."