England begin the countdown to Women's Euro 2005 with a friendly match against Italy on Thursday.
The FA Women’s International, in partnership with Nationwide
7.30pm, Thursday 17 February 2005
MK Dons FC, National Hockey Stadium
England begin the final countdown to the UEFA Women’s European Championship with a tough friendly international against fellow finalists Italy at Milton Keynes on Thursday evening.
A sell-out crowd at the National Hockey Stadium in Milton Keynes, home of MK Dons, will support Hope Powell’s team as they step back into action for the first time since playing against Holland in September.
In the meantime National Coach Powell has overseen three training camps as she intensifies the process of honing her playing resources towards a final squad of 20 for the Women’s Euro 2005, to be played in the north west of England during June.
The final stages of preparation are to involve seven friendly internationals, starting with a game against an Italian side which two years ago beat England 1-0 in Viareggio and have since qualified for the Euro finals via the play-offs.
They have been drawn in the opposite group to England at the tournament and Powell, looking ahead to Thursday night’s meeting, said: “I’m pleased we’ll be playing against a team that will be tough opposition but that’s not in our group.
“I’m really looking forward to the game. We’ve been preparing well towards the Euro finals at our training camps, but it’s nice now to be heading into a match that will give us the chance to see how far we’ve progressed since the last time we played Italy.
“We had a lot of players missing that night and there were several new caps, but it was certainly a good test for us and it will be the same again on Thursday. Italy are a quick, athletic team and it will be interesting to se how we fare against them.”
Striker Kelly Smith, back at Arsenal after eight years playing in America, was one of the key players who were unavailable for that trip to Italy and she is set to miss out again after sustaining a stress fracture that will keep her out of action until April.
Smith’s absence has reduced Powell’s squad from 30 to 29, but happily two other important players who were not in Viareggio are back in the fold and looking forward to Thursday evening’s encounter.
Captain Faye White and midfielder Katie Chapman, who like Smith were crucially forced to miss the latter stages of England’s bid to reach the 2003 Women’s World Cup finals, are both eager to make an impact against the Italians.
Arsenal central defender White said: “Thursday night will be about individual performances as well as the team display, but most importantly it will be to see how we compete against a team that’s going to be at the Euro finals in June.
“I’ve played against them once or twice and this season I’ve played for Arsenal against one of their club sides, Torres, in the UEFA Women’s Cup. The Italians are quick, skilful and get forward in numbers – it’s going to be a very good test for us.”
Charlton Athletic’s Chapman, with three goals in her club team’s last four games, heads into the match in a rich vein of scoring form that could prove useful to an England team with just five goals from the last five outings.
“I went through a rough patch of not scoring,” said Chapman, “but hopefully now I’ll have the confidence to go for goals for England. Not just me, though – everybody likes to score and we’ll certainly be looking for goals on Thursday.”
Lack of goals is not at the moment a major concern for Powell, who has stressed during the long Women’s Euro 2005 build-up to date that performances have been more important than results.
With the tournament looming large, however, the National Coach is looking to turn performances into positive results ahead of what will be the biggest women’s football event ever staged in the UK.
“We always look for a result,” she stressed, “but it’s important that we put in a good performance on Thursday and hopefully the results will start kicking in from good performances at individual as well as team level.
“We had some decent results last season, and although we then dipped a bit we came back to win our last two friendlies of 2004 and we now want to win as many as we can leading up to the Euros.”