Striker Kelly Smith has come through a traumatic 18 months to help in England's
Striker Kelly Smith has come through a traumatic 18 months to help in England's build-up to the 2005 Women's European Championships Finals. TheFA.com takes a sneak preview of the exclusive interview with Kelly in the England v Scotland matchday programme on sale at the international this Thursday...
It was looking good for the America-based striker and her England colleagues when a place in the qualifying play-offs for the World Cup finals was comfortably achieved.
But then - in May 2002 - Smith damaged the cruciate ligament in her right knee while playing for her club side Philadelphia Charge and she subsequently missed all four of England's play-off matches, which ended in the disappointment of defeat by France in the UEFA Play-Off Final.
She then injured the same knee at the start of this summer's WUSA League season and was unable to play any further part in Philadelphia's campaign. Her comeback, in fact, came in England's 1-0 win against Australia at Burnley in September. She played only in the first half of that game and then saw just 18 minutes of action as a second half substitute in the following week's 4-0 defeat by Germany in Darmstadt.
But she will be hoping to start tonight's game after continuing her rehabilitation work in America, where the World Cup Finals were held last month in the aftermath of the WUSA's sad disbanding.
Smith, like all the players and followers of the world's first professional women's soccer league, is hoping that it can be revived. But she is meanwhile concentrating on building up her own fitness while playing her part in England's preparations for Euro 2005 - which will be the biggest women's football tournament ever staged in the UK.
She said: "I've not had the best of times over the last year and a half, but my leg's fine now and I've been training every day although I've not done much ball work apart from when I've been with the England squad.
"After so long out of action it was great to get back and to be wearing the three lions again when we played Australia. Everybody was really pumped up for the game, wanting to prove that we should have been going to the World Cup finals as well as the Australians.
"I honestly believe that if we hadn't had a number of key players out for long periods of time then we would have got to the finals. But it wasn't to be and so although it felt good to beat Australia, there was still some hurt inside that they'd be going off to America and we wouldn't.
"Unfortunately I had some reaction to my knee problem after that game and I played only for a short time against Germany, who were too strong for us on the day. They are an excellent team and they thoroughly deserved to win the World Cup. I watched a number of games including the Final, which was tremendous, and the quality of football generally in the tournament was much higher than at the 1999 World Cup.
"Most of our recent opponents have been teams who were involved at the finals so it's going to be interesting now to come up against a team that wasn't there.
"I've not played against Scotland since 1997, when we beat them 6-0. They've come on an awful lot since then so it may be more difficult this time around, but England are an improved team too so it should be a decent game."
By Tony Leighton
The England Women v Scotland game will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 1 from 7.30pm on Thursday 13th November, with a 7.45pm kick-off.
Tickets for the England v Scotland match are now on sale. For further details call the Preston North End FC ticket office on 0870 442 1964.