In the midday heat of the Deep South, Hope Powell's young England sq
In the midday heat of the Deep South, Hope Powell's young England squad were on Friday put through their final paces ahead of a game that will pit them against the current World Champions in their own backyard...
The image of Brandi Chastain celebrating a World Cup winning goal by waving her shirt over her head makes her a cult figure outside of the 'land of the free', and in the States, the fame accorded to Mia Hamm even dwarfs that of David Beckham back home.
Indeed Hamm has the remarkable record of having scored 138 international goals in 234 appearances and will be keen to add to that tomorrow.
In heat approaching 90 degrees, on a perfect, almost carpet-like pitch, England's premier women went through a testing hour-long training session at Birmingham's Legion Field Stadium, acclimatising to conditions of supreme humidity. The training reflected the conditions England will expect when they kick-off against the Americans at 12.00 noon local time (six hours behind GMT).
The stadium seats 80,000 spectators, and although a crowd of between 10-15,000 supporters is expected tomorrow, Powell's squad are determined to put in a good performance in a match which will be televised nationwide on Sports Channel ESPN.
Speaking to TheFA.com, Hope, pictured, said: "The US are arguably the best side in the world at the moment, and tomorrow will give the girls a strong indication of just how far English football has progressed."
The last time the two sides met was in March 2002 when the USA emerged 2-0 victors in the Algarve Cup, and Hope doesn't expect the game to be easy.
"The conditions on Saturday afternoon will be very hot and humid, and given the quality of the opposition, we know that the home crowd will be expecting to celebrate a home win.
"However, since we failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing to France, my team of coaches have planned ahead for the next two years before we host the 2005 European Championships, and we want to test ourselves against the very best countries in the world."
England's chances are perhaps not helped by the absence of four key players: Fara Williams, Kelly Smith, Faye White and Katie Chapman, but Hope understandably doesn't see this as a negative.
"As a coach, you can never assume that you will always have your strongest team available. The quality of those four players will clearly be missed, but for other players, their absence opens an opportunity for them to not only gain valuable experience, but also prove to me why they should hold down a regular place in the team."
England's squad on this three game tour of the United States and Canada has an average age of 23, so for experienced players like captain Karen Walker, pictured, Pauline Cope and Sammy Britton, they have an additional support role to play both on and off the pitch.
"As captain, I would expect Karen Walker to lead by example," said Hope. "But her international record is also an inspiration for a lot of players in the squad."
Walker is the top all-time goalscorer for England, boasting 40 goals in just 81 appearances. At 34, she is also the eldest player in the squad and once played alongside Powell. However, Hope has no fear that tomorrow's opposition will intimidate her players.
"Other players such as Casey Stoney have really began to progress now and will rise to the occasion," added Powell. "Casey has come through the England youth squads and then captained Charlton at the FA Cup Final at the age of 20 this season, and we will have a meeting before the game when I will tell each of the players what I will expect from them."
In temperatures which will again be close to the late eighties, early nineties, Hope believes that her experiences as a player will also stand her squad in good stead. "On a tour of the States in 1997 we lost 5-0 in San Jose, and due to the heat and lack of proper hydration, I had to go off at half-time.
"Now with the benefit of a fully qualified medical support team in Doctor Pippa Bennnett, Physio Louise Fawcett and Exercise Scientist Dawn Scott, our physical preparation will be as finely tuned as our tactical preparation," said Hope.
With seven substitutions available during the game, Hope and her coaching team of Brent Hills and Keith Rees will be looking to be sensible if conditions are as humid as at training this morning.
"With three games on this tour, we can afford to rotate players if necessary," said Hope. "But it may be that for some players, the conditions will be another test, and I will be looking to see who can play through the heat, and use their energy appropriately."
Shortly after the final whistle tomorrow the Three Lions will be departing for Canada, where they will play another two testing friendlies in Montreal at 7pm on Monday at the Catalogna Soccerplexe, and again in Ottawa at the Frank Clair Stadium on Thursday 22nd May at 7pm.
Looking ahead to those games, Hope said: "I expect these games to be equally tough, although we do have the fact that the last time we met in 1995 we beat the Canadians 3-2 at the World Cup in Sweden!
"Since then however they have qualified for each of the last two World Cup finals, and their U19s also reached the finals of the last World Under-19 Championships, defeating us 6-2 in the Quarter Finals, so they are definitely a growing 'power' in the game."
TheFA.com will bring you a full match report and reaction from tomorrow's game against the USA on Sunday, as well as updated news and features from within the camp over the next week.
By Alex Stone in Birmingham, Alabama