England face Scotland this evening, live on Sky Sports, as the Euro 2005 countdown continues.
After a tremendous run of results, expectations will be high as England continue their build-up to Women’s Euro 2005 with a friendly international against Scotland at Tranmere Rovers FC , to be shown live on Sky Sports this evening (7.45pm).
Hope Powell’s team have won six of their last seven matches while, against the Scots, England’s record shows 17 victories from 18 meetings including a 5-1 success when the ‘Auld Enemies’ last clashed, at Preston in November 2003.
Despite those statistics, however, National Coach Powell respects a Scotland side which made great strides under the management of Vera Pauw and which, under new coach Anna Signeul, will be looking to make further progress on the world stage.
As she looked ahead to Thursday’s encounter, Powell warned: "It will be a difficult contest, irrespective of previous results against Scotland. They’ll come out with all guns blazing and they’ll make it tough for us.
"They’ve got a new coach, who’s had a lot of experience in Sweden, and with a World Cup qualifying campaign coming up the players will want to impress Anna as well as get a good result against us.
"So it will certainly be a test, but we’ll be up for it after some good recent results and performances and with the Euro finals getting closer and closer. It’s seemed a long time coming, but we’re almost there and really looking forward to it.
"The finals are being held in the North West of England and that’s one of the reasons we’ve brought this match to Tranmere. It should be a good advert for the tournament and with several Everton players in the squad, we’ll hopefully get a good crowd."
Powell’s 30-strong squad includes no fewer than eight players from Everton, based not far from Tranmere on Merseyside, and the Toffees’ striker Jody Handley is confident that local fans will come out in support of the national team.
"Merseyside’s a big catchment area for girls’ and women’s football," said Handley, "and of course there’s a massive football culture here through Liverpool and Everton – every family seems to have at least one footballer among them.
"So there should be a good atmosphere on Thursday night and hopefully we can produce a performance and result to make the England fans happy. That will obviously be the aim, especially after our recent results.
"But we can’t rest on our laurels, and although we’ll be expected to beat Scotland we know it will be a hard test. We’d be confident against anyone at the moment, but there’s no way we’re going to take anyone lightly – especially the Scots!"
Handley’s club colleague Rachel Brown, regarded by many as England’s top goalkeeper, is back in the squad after a long term injury but is unlikely to play on Thursday as she is not yet back to 100 per cent match fitness.
That could give another opportunity to Birmingham City keeper Jo Fletcher, who followed her impressive February debut against Italy with some good performances during March’s Algarve Cup tournament.
Fletcher, who returned to English football last season after four years in America, said: "After coming back over here I gave myself two seasons to get into the England squad and I’m delighted to have achieved my aim.
"There are no guaranteed places in the 20-player squad for The Women’s Euro 2005, though, so if selected on Thursday I’ll be like everyone else involved – aiming to perform well, get the result and stay in the frame for the Euro squad."
The England squad for the European finals will not be announced until Thursday, 26 May, just 10 days before the start of what will be the biggest women’s football event ever staged in the UK.
And National Coach Powell is keeping her thoughts close to her chest as she contemplates the make-up of her squad with just three friendlies remaining ahead of her team’s Euro opener against Finland on Sunday, 5 June.
"Not by a long shot have I made up my mind about the final 20," insisted Powell. "It’s important we keep the squad together and give everybody the opportunity to stake a claim for a place, and that’s what we’ll be doing over these next three games.
"Things are starting to fall into place and our recent results have been encouraging. Winning breeds confidence and gives players the belief they can achieve their aims – and the most immediate aim is a good performance and result on Thursday."
Goalkeepers: Karen Bardsley (California State University), Rachel Brown (Everton), Josephine Fletcher (Birmingham City), Leanne Hall (Fulham).
Defenders: Laura Bassett (Birmingham City), Leanne Champ (Arsenal), Becky Easton (Everton), Lindsay Johnson (Everton), Mary Phillip (Arsenal), Alex Scott (Birmingham City), Casey Stoney (Charlton Athletic), Rachel Unitt (Everton), Faye White (Arsenal),
Midfielders: Anita Asante (Arsenal), Samantha Britton (Everton), Katie Chapman (Charlton Athletic), Vicky Exley (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Rachel McArthur (Bristol City), Kelly McDougall (Everton), Sally Lacey (Birmingham City), Emily Westwood (Wolves), Fara Williams (Everton).
Forwards: Eniola Aluko (Charlton Athletic), Amanda Barr (Birmingham City), Karen Carney (Birmingham City), Jody Handley (Everton), Ellen Maggs (Birmingham City), Kristy Moore (Fløya), Jo Potter (Birmingham City), Sue Smith (Leeds United).
Goalkeepers: Gemma Fay (Hibernian), Claire Johnstone (Hamilton Academical).
Defenders: Michelle Barr (Leeds United), Stacey Cook (Hibernian), Ifeoma Dieke (Soccerlocker, USA), Julie Ferguson (Hibernian), Shelley Grant (Glasgow City), Rhonda Jones (Florida Atlantic University), Michelle Kerr (Doncaster Belles).
Midfielders: Amanda Burns (Hibernian), Nicky Grant (Doncaster Belles), Joanne Love (Kilmarnock), Julie Smith (Kilmarnock), Megan Sneddon (Kilmarnock).
Forwards: Julie Fleeting (Arsenal), Suzanne Grant (Glasgow City), Pauline Hamill (Hibernian), Suzanne Malone (Hibernian).