For the first time this season England have a fully fit squad to face the Czech Republic.
For the first time this season and with perfect timing, England have a fully fit squad available for selection as they prepare to meet the Czech Republic in their final friendly before heading into the UEFA Women’s European Championship finals.
Ten days before they kick off the tournament with a Group A match against Finland at the City of Manchester Stadium, Hope Powell’s team take on the Czechs at Walsall FC’s Bescot Stadium on Thursday evening.
And after injury victims Kelly Smith, Katie Chapman and Rachel Brown had all been given a clean bill of health, National Coach Powell was in upbeat mood as she looked ahead to seeing her team complete their long build-up to the Women’s Euro 2005.
"Everyone’s fit and in good spirits," said Powell, whose 20-player squad – announced last week – for the finals will head into Thursday’s encounter on the back of an impressive run which has seen them win eight of their last nine matches.
Arsenal striker Smith (foot) and Everton goalkeeper Brown (knee) have both missed much of the season through injury, while Charlton Athletic midfielder Chapman has been out of action since breaking a hand against Scotland five weeks ago.
But all three are back to full fitness and could figure against the Czech Republic. "Katie was given the all-clear by a consultant on Monday morning," said the National Coach, "and Kelly and Rachel have both been doing well and looking good.
"Katie has been given a specially made cast to protect her hand, although she doesn’t understand ‘don’t go in for a challenge!’ It might be a bit nervy for her and she’ll be conscious of it, but Katie being Katie she’ll just get on with it.
"Rachel has been involved in most of the training sessions and some of them have been very intense, but she has also been rested at times. If the medics give her the all-clear for Thursday though, she may get some match-night exposure.
"Kelly was on quite a stringent programme prior to the meet-up for this match, but she did really well coping with that and she came through a behind-closed doors match on Sunday evening.
"She’s been a bit frustrated, not having a full season because of injury, but her displays in training sessions and the matches she’s had time in recently have given her and everybody else in the squad a boost."
Smith, acknowledged as one of the world’s finest players, has reached iconic status but due to her injury problems had to watch from the sidelines as England produced their best run for almost 20 years leading up to Thursday night’s match.
"It’s not just about Kelly but all 20 players in the squad," said Powell. "We’ve got a strong squad now and there’s no guarantee who’ll be in the starting line-up. The competitiveness and balance is such that we’ve got real depth.
"The confidence and morale are high after our recent results and we want to keep the run going against the Czech Republic, although it won’t be easy against a team who will be worthy opponents in our final match before the Euros.
"Their recent results have been good and having had them watched a couple of times, we know they’re a physical team who will present us with the sort of challenge we need ahead of the tournament."
England squad: Rachel Brown (Everton), Jo Fletcher (Birmingham City), Leanne Hall (Fulham), Lindsay Johnson (Everton), Mary Phillip (Arsenal), Alex Scott (Birmingham City), Casey Stoney (Charlton Athletic), Rachel Unitt (Everton), Faye White (Arsenal), Anita Asante (Arsenal), Katie Chapman (Charlton Athletic), Vicky Exley (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Emily Westwood (Wolves), Fara Williams (Everton), Eniola Aluko (Charlton Athletic), Amanda Barr (Birmingham City), Karen Carney (Birmingham City), Jody Handley (Everton), Kelly Smith (Arsenal), Rachel Yankey (Birmingham City).