Hope Powell looks back on 2005, a year with many highlights for England, and forward to 2006.
After a quiet start followed by a crescendo of summer excitement that mixed joy with sorrow, 2005 has ended on a high note for Hope Powell and her England team. As they look ahead to the new year, England sit at the top of their 2007 Women’s World Cup qualifying group as the only team with maximum points.
Some observers reckon they have taken over as group favourites from France, over whom they have a three-point advantage ahead of their meeting in March.
But after the rollercoaster 12 months that was 2005, National Coach Powell is taking nothing for granted as she reflects on a year of impressive progress.
The strides taken by England are demonstrated in FIFA statistics which show that only Germany gained more ranking points than Powell’s team in the calendar year.
“We’ve come a long way in a fairly short space of time,” said Powell, “and it’s pleasing to see that we’re now being recognised as a team to be reckoned with.
“We’ve had some disappointments this year, massively so at the European Championships, but we can take a lot of positives from 2005.”
The year began, in the middle of a five-month break from match action, with two training camps as preparations began in earnest for The Women’s Euro 2005.
Eight friendlies – seven of them ending in victory – were then played in the space of 14 weeks ahead of the Euros, which were being held in the north west of England.
“We had to prepare without any competitive matches,” said Powell, “but to me the combination of training camps and friendlies was the ideal build-up to the Euros.
“It allowed us to experiment, to play against sides of differing strengths and to look at every player who had a chance of making the squad.
“It also meant we could bring through youngsters like Karen Carney, Emily Westwood and Eni Aluko with no massive pressure on them.”
All three of those players were included in England’s youngest ever Euro squad, who thrilled the nation despite agonisingly missing out on a semi-final place.
Almost 70,000 fans attended their three matches and millions more watched on TV as women’s football was showcased like never before in the UK.
Going out at the group stage was a bitter disappointment – but Powell’s team bounced back with a vengeance to win all three of their World Cup qualifiers to date.
“Euro 2005 was a fantastic experience for everyone involved,” said the National Coach, “and it was great that so many people watched our games.
“I thought we were good enough to get out of the group, something I probably wouldn’t have believed two or three years earlier, but it wasn’t to be.
“Being in that environment and under that sort of pressure was invaluable to everyone though, and I feel the girls are stronger because of it.
“Having said that, we had a bit of a Euro hangover – which I thought might happen - when we went into our World Cup qualifiers.
“But although we didn’t start too well against Austria, we beat them comfortably in the end and after three games we have now put the pressure on other teams.
“We’ve still got some really big qualifying matches to come, but I believe we have as good a chance as anybody of ending next year with a place in the 2007 finals.”