England’s players have their last chance to stake a claim for a Euro 2005 place at Oakwell on Friday.
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England’s players will get their last chance on Friday to stake a claim for a place in the Women’s Euro 2005 squad when they face Norway in the penultimate friendly international ahead of next month’s tournament.
National Coach Hope Powell will in the next fortnight name her 20-player squad for the finals, to be played in the north west of England during 5-19 June.
Powell is preparing a 30-player squad for Friday’s match at Barnsley FC’s Oakwell Stadium, where Norway will provide one of the stiffest tests that England have faced in the two and a half years since they lost to France in the World Cup qualifying play-off final.
That should give the National Coach the perfect environment to make her final assessment of the players who she has welded into a tight-knit squad in the long build-up to what will be the biggest women’s football event ever staged in the UK.
“I’m pretty close to knowing my squad for the finals,” said Powell, “but I’ve always said that I’d give everybody as much opportunity as possible to shine and that I’d wait until the last minute before naming the squad.
“So it’s been important that we kept the squad together, particularly in the light of injuries that have affected us over the last few years, and it’s nice to think that we should have everybody available for selection in the final 20.
“We’ve played some good teams recently and had a good run of results, but Norway are at a different level – this game will test the girls to the maximum and give us a true reflection of how far we’ve come.”
Arsenal central defender Mary Phillip, one of the most experienced players in Powell’s squad, believes that England have come quite a way in the four years since the last European Championships and reckons that the Norwegians should hold no fears for a team that has won seven of its last eight matches.
Norway, who England have never beaten in 12 previous meetings, sit third in FIFA’s world rankings. That’s 11 places ahead of Powell’s team and the highest-ranked nation that England have met since facing Germany – ranked joint first with America – in September 2003.
But Phillip said: “We might not have a good record against Norway, but we’ve not played them for over two years and in that time we feel we’ve become a team who can take on sides like that.
“Our team has improved heaps,” added the 28 year-old former Millwall Lionesses and Fulham player. “Our fitness is up 100 per cent compared to four years ago, our game understanding is better and with some great youngsters coming through we’re in as good shape as we could be.”
Several of the younger players who are in contention for places in the Euro squad have only broken into the senior national team during the last few months.
Now some of them could be on the brink of making the squad for the Euro finals and 20 year-old Birmingham City right back Alex Scott, who made her debut against Holland in September, admitted: “This time last year I was worried about getting into the Under-21 squad, so it’s amazing to be in this situation.
“But I was given my break and with the help of the girls around me in the squad I’ve been trying to make the most of my chances – and if selected against Norway I’ll be giving it my best shot to get into the final squad.”
Before naming the squad Powell must assess the fitness of three key players, two of whom – Arsenal striker Kelly Smith and Everton goalkeeper Rachel Brown – have been long term absentees this season while Charlton midfielder Katie Chapman is currently out of action after breaking her hand in last month’s win against Scotland.
“Katie will play no part in the Norway game,” confirmed Powell, “but she is with the squad and she is very positive about her situation. Rachel has had a couple of good training sessions with us and she’s on track, and Kelly is back with us and doing everything to give herself the best possible chance of selection for the Euros.”
After making a goalscoring comeback in Arsenal’s League title-clinching victory over Charlton last week, Smith is aiming to prove her fitness ahead of Powell’s decision on her squad for the Euro finals.
“It was great to come on as substitute and score that important goal for Arsenal,” said the 26 year-old striker, “and the problem with my foot injury seems to be cleared. Now I want to get as much playing time as I can because the girls who’ve played all season are certainly ahead of me in terms of match fitness.”
Smith’s namesake Sue, who has recovered well from a broken leg that disrupted her playing career, has been a Leeds United player for the last three seasons and is hoping to get the chance to impress on another Yorkshire ground when England step out against Norway on Friday evening.
“We get good crowds at Leeds,” said the 25 year-old left winger, “and I’m sure we’ll get a big crowd and a great atmosphere at Barnsley. It should be a great game too – Norway are a top team, but with so much at stake for our players we’ll be giving it everything we’ve got to produce a good performance and result.”
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