Not for the first time, Kelly Smith goes into a major tournament having missed much of the domestic season through injury, but such is her talent that she could be the key to England going one better than four years ago and winning UEFA Women's EURO 2013. They open next Friday against Spain in Linkoping and the Arsenal LFC forward, included in the squad despite not having played since March, spoke to UEFA.com about their Group C opponents, their 2009 run, and how her injury problems have shaped her.
UEFA.com: What would you say has been the biggest moment in your career, and also the most difficult?
Smith: A really special moment was obviously qualifying for my first major tournament, the [FIFA Women's] World Cup in 2007 with England in China, and to score four goals in that tournament, that is really precious to me.
My worst moment was probably when I had so many injuries consecutively, and obviously became addicted to alcohol and went into rehab. So that was probably my worst time in football. But at the top of that scale, not knowing if I would ever play football again from those injuries, making that 2007 World Cup was the highlight for me.
UEFA.com: Having had all those injuries, has it changed your approach, the way you train, the way you play?
Smith: Yes, I am more careful now and mange myself better. Obviously the couple of surgeries that I have had, my knee isn't the same, so I don't train as frequently on it as I can. Some days I am offloading, whether it's on a cross trainer or a bike. So I have now learned how to manage my body better. And that happens with age and experience.
UEFA.com: This will be your seventh major tournament. What does it mean to you to have been able to play at this stage – Women's EURO, World Cup, Olympics – so often?
Smith: It's massive, it's amazing, it's what you want to do growing up as a child, play in a World Cup and an Olympics and European Championships, it's the ultimate. And this one is going to be no different. Sweden is going to be a big, big tournament, and obviously you want to be a part of that, playing on the world stage, so to speak; it's what you live for. Hopefully I'll get that opportunity to do that.
UEFA.com: What do you think of your group?
Kelly Smith: We've got a really tough group, if I'm honest: France, Russia and Spain. I don't believe we have actually ever beaten France; we've come close on a couple of occasions, our last friendly was a draw, so we hope to go one step further and beat them in the group games.
Spain, they are a very technical and tactical outfit, like the men, and they're a young upcoming international side. And obviously Russia, they have improved massively since the last time we played them in 2009 [winning 3-2]. So I feel like we've got a really tough group, but hopefully we can push on and get out of that.
UEFA.com: Last time in Finland you made the final; can England do it again, or even go that bit further?
Smith: Yes, certainly we hope and pray for that. We were delighted to have made the final in 2009, and disappointed to have come away runners-up; got a silver medal.
But yes, we want to go one step further, get out of the group and hopefully progress to the final and do something special. I certainly think that we've got the squad: it's probably the strongest squad that Hope [Powell] has had in terms of having a good blend of youth and obviously experience. A lot of the older players have played in many tournaments and know what it's like now, tournament football.
I think we have the right crop of players, it's having that little bit of luck, and obviously the right mentality to go out and perform the best that we can to get to the final.
UEFA.com: Last time you got to the final. What are your memories of that run in 2009? Did you even think you would make the final before it started?
Smith: We were quietly confident in-house. We were delighted to have got to the final. Up until 60 minutes I think we were pretty much in the game; but with Germany's experience and strength and depth, they kind of took over the game. [We showed] our inexperience at that stage, giving the ball away sloppily, and they just kind of took control. They were the better side on the day and deserved to win.
I don't think we would crumble in those circumstances if we were to reach the final again: we've got a lot more experience at that level and better players. Hopefully we can reach that final and do one better.
UEFA.com: Which players do you think have made the biggest contribution to developing the game?
Smith: Birgit Prinz, she's always been a powerhouse for Germany, striving their team forward; obviously Marta; Abby Wambach; these are big names within the game that helped develop the game and are icons for youngsters. Marinette Pichon from France, who I admired so much playing with her for Philadelphia Charge in America. She was one of the best players I have certainly played with.
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