By Paul Saffer
Former England great Sir Trevor Brooking believes that the hosts' improved fitness will pay dividends when they begin their UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ bid against Finland.
Now the director of football development at the Football Assocation (FA), the women's game falls within Sir Trevor's purview and the ex-West Ham United FC midfielder has sensed an increasingly confident atmosphere around the England camp as they prepare for their Group A campaign, where they meet the Finns, Denmark and Sweden.
"At the Algarve tournament we got a good draw with China, which is a good example of how psychologically we've developed," Sir Trevor told uefa.com. "Along with the 4-1 victory against Italy in February, the side think they are getting better and have that confidence so going into the championship. We are really aiming to get into those semi-finals, which would be a big achievement, and who knows after that?"
Coach Hope Powell was appointed in 1998, and this is her second WOMEN'S EURO campaign. Sir Trevor revealed that Powell is taking an innovative approach which has been paying dividends with her side's improved results over the last year, including a run of six consecutive wins that included the triumph against Italy and only ended with the China result, a 0-0 draw followed by a penalty shoot-out defeat in Portugal.
"Hope's big query was 'are we fit enough to compete with the other teams?' as our top-level game is part-time," he said. "So our investment has been going into sport science, nutrition and physical preparation. By the time the finals start, the England squad will be the fittest any women's team has been."
The grassroots have also been nurtured. "Everyone deserves a lot of credit for what has happened with the women's game, going right down to girls' level," Sir Trevor said. "[FA head of national football development] Kelly Simmons and her staff here have put the emphasis on girls' football so it is now the biggest girls' sport in the country and the number of teams is mushrooming massively. Now we have to improve the club and amateur game so that they have somewhere to go when they leave the schools."
Giving young fans the chance to see Europe's best players will provide an extra spur to that growth, Sir Trevor believes, with interest in the finals high both in the north-west region where the games will be played, and beyond. "The championsship has given us an opportunity to market the women's game especially as it is in the north-west which is a strong football area," he said. "People will come out - from other regions they are sending coachloads across."
He added: "When we were awarded the championships we were ranked seventh or eighth in Europe so it was going to be difficult for us to do well, but Hope Powell and her coaching team have worked hard along with the development team, setting up the Under-21 and U19 sides. With the enthusiasm of Hope's support, you can feel that excitement gathering for the tournament. Then we have to ensure there is a long-term legacy."
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