England's preparations for the 2005 UEFA Women’s Championship finals have begun in earnest.
The countdown to the 2005 UEFA Women’s Championships finals has begun in earnest for the England squad even though the tournament is 12 months away.
As Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England men finalise their preparations for Euro 2004 in Portugal, Hope Powell’s players have this week embarked on a training programme structured specifically towards Euro 2005 here in England.
Captain Faye White, looking ahead to the biggest women’s football event ever held in the UK, said: "It’s going to be a hard slog over the next 12 months, but it will be worth it to play at the biggest tournament that most of us will have been involved in.
"A number of us were in the squad at Euro 2001 in Germany and that was massive, but to play in such a major tournament in your own country is going to make Euro 2005 an even bigger and more exciting experience.
"After having a few weeks off since the end of last season we’ve all turned our focus back to football, and we’ll be working really hard to win a place in the final squad."
National coach Powell’s 20-player squad for the tournament, which opens on June 5th with all of the games set to take place in the North West of England, will not be announced until early next year.
In the meantime a tough fixture-list will help in the Euro build-up, with friendly internationals planned on a monthly basis starting with an August 19th home match against Russia followed by a September 16th visit to Holland.
White said: "We’ve got some hard games coming up ahead of the finals, but that’s the only way we’ll get ourselves prepared to face some of the best teams not only in Europe but in the world.
"Germany and Sweden were the finalists in last year’s World Cup and they were the first to qualify for Euro 2005 along with France, who beat us in the qualifying play-off final for the World Cup.
"It was a massive disappointment to miss out on qualification for the World Cup, but that’s made us even more determined to do well at Euro 2005.
"We had several key players missing when we lost narrowly to France at the end of 2002, but with a more or less full-strength team last season we showed our capabilities against the likes of Russia, Denmark and Iceland.
"If we can build on the performance levels we produced in those games then I believe we can give a really good account of ourselves and compete with the best at Euro 2005."
The 26 year-old Arsenal and England captain is looking forward to leading the national side out in stadiums around the North West of England, showcasing women’s football as it’s never been showcased before in this country.
"It’s a great opportunity to broaden the popularity of the women’s game," said White. "Football is already the biggest player-participation female sport in the country but Euro 2005 can take the game to a much wider audience.
"There’ll be no other football on offer in England at the time so hopefully we’ll get good crowds and TV audiences, and we’ll certainly be aiming to show that the women’s game can be exciting to watch.
"We’ve had good backing from very supportive crowds whenever we’ve played in the North West and I’m sure that will continue into Euro 2005 – and we’ll be aiming to give the fans plenty to cheer about!"