National Coach Hope Powell is hoping she can continue an exciting international
National Coach Hope Powell is hoping she can continue an exciting international week with a good result in England's Women's Play-Off Final clash against France at Selhurst Park this evening, 7.45pm kick-off.
England v France
FIFA 2003 Women's World Cup
Crystal Palace FC, Selhurst Park
Thursday 17th October 2002, 19.45 kick off
England are looking to get off to a good start in the first leg of their Play-Off Final to reach the 2003 World Cup Finals in China.
England failed to qualify for the last World Cup, held in USA in 1999, after finishing behind European champions Germany, then World champions Norway and Holland in their group. This time England finished second to Germany in their qualifying group, having beaten Holland 4-1 away to get there.
Finishing as runners-up saw England progress to a four-team play-off for a single remaining UEFA qualifying spot. England beat Iceland 3-2 on aggregate last month to set up a Final clash against France.
Powell was in a relaxed mood at the team's hotel earlier this week when The FA held a press conference ahead of the match. "Will it give the game a boost if we qualify? Absolutely," she told the listening journalists.
"I think taking part in the 2001 European Championships did that. If we get there obviously it raises the profile of the game and I'm sure that happened when we competed in Euro 2001.
"If we don't get there does it mean the women's game will suddenly die? No it doesn't. There is a lot of work done behind the scenes on Women's Football and that won't fall apart if we don't get there. If we don't get there, that work doesn't stop."
England will be missing two key players from tonight's clash, striker Kelly Smith, who is recovering from cruciate ligament injury, and Katie Chapman, who is taking a break from playing as she's pregnant. France, however, are at full strength and pose a tough opposition having beaten the European semi-finalists Denmark to get to this stage.
"I think France are a different proposition, they are a good side. They beat Denmark in the play-off semi-final, who were semi-finalists in the 2001 European Championships," added Powell.
"We haven't beaten France since 1974. I think going into this game, the pressure will be on France over the two legs and I think that will suit our players.
"In the last games against Iceland, there was a lot of pressure on because we knew what was at stake. This week we have tried to make the preparation a lot more relaxed. We just hope they go out there relaxed because when they are relaxed they generally play better.
"I think it's going to be a harder tie than the Iceland game. If we want to win we have to play well."
The second leg of the Play-Off Final will be held in Saint Etienne on Saturday November 16th. Saint Etienne was the site of England men's penalty defeat to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup, so will have poignant memories for the England set-up, but they'll be going there to bring back a result.
But for tonight's game, which will be televised live on Sky Sports 1, it's all about getting off to a good start. Powell is hoping for a vociferous crowd to cheer the girls on, whose preparation for the game has been helped by playing on a familiar surface - Selhurst Park, where England faced Germany in May.
"If I had a choice would preferred to be away first, but UEFA held the draw and set it this way. Once we had set the date, I wanted to play the home game at Selhurst Park. To have it at that ground is massive for us. The club works really hard and we have built good relations with them.
"Hopefully they will get the fans to the game. It's a nice venue to play at, the players have played there before and they'll enjoy it."
Tickets, priced at £3 for adults if bought in advance and £1 for children/OAPs are available from the Crystal Palace FC ticket hotline on 020 8771 8841 or by fax on 020 8653 4708 or via the website: www.cpfc.co.uk.
Prices on the gate increase to £5 adults/£1 concessions.
If you can't get down to Selhurst, you can make sure you don't miss any of the action by watching Sky Sports 1 from 7.30pm.