At first glimpse the 2005 UEFA European Women's Championship may have been business as usual, Germany again defeating Norway to lift the trophy for the fourth time running. But the tournament in England last June represented a significant step forward for the female game.
It was obvious from the opening day, when nearly 30,000 fans - a record for the competition - flocked to the City of Manchester stadium to watch the hosts win a thriller 3-2 against Finland. That set the tone for the tournament, and once the 15 games were over a total of 117,384 spectators had attended the five stadiums in the north-west of England, including more than 20,000 for the final in Blackburn.
Although the hosts fell at the group stage, they captured the local imagination as women's football had not done in the modern era, with more than three million people tuning in to watch the narrow defeat by FIFA Women's World Cup finalists Sweden that ended their campaign. Coach Hope Powell - appointed the first-ever full-time England women's national team coach in 1998 - has masterminded the team's rise to prominence, and six months on remains proud of the summer events.
Powell told uefa.com: "
The whole experience was magnificent, I really enjoyed the whole thing from start to finish. Although it was disappointing to go out at the stage where we went out, that experience as a manager and that occasion on home soil was massive. You realise that when people stop you in the street and say 'it was great, the summer, I know who you are'."
The tournament, Powell believes, has had a lasting impact on women's football in England, and the status and confidence of her young team: "I would say there has been a massive shift. After the EURO it was quite surreal. I'm not one for that sort of attention, but the nice thing was that a lot of people watched us and how proud and positive a lot of people were."
She added: "I believe that tournament put England on the map as a team that can compete. [Victorious German coach] Tina Theune-Meyer was very complimentary saying: 'You're doing the right thing, keep doing it, take your time’ - and that's from somebody who's won the World Cup and European Championships; she's been and seen everything, so it's a real compliment to the team."
UEFA has taken several steps to energise the competition, moving women's football to its professional division and announcing that the 2009 competition will have 12 qualifiers, up from eight this year. Powell supports the changes and believes the increasing number of 'shock' results - from Finland reaching the EURO semi-finals to the Netherlands recently defeating France in England's World Cup qualifying group – are indicative of how much women's football is developing in Europe.
Europe is so strong, there are 12 teams good enough to compete," she said. "One of the things about going to EURO 2001, when we qualified, was it really opened my eyes to what needed to be done for us to move forward. And now this move opens up opportunities for other countries."
But even as England lead their 2007 World Cup group, Powell can always look back with satisfaction to June. "That should be used as a model and hopefully that can be developed," she concluded. "If there's anybody who said that wasn't a big event, I'd be flabbergasted."
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