Powell's hope

The Women's 2013 European Championships got underway this week and England's head coach Hope Powell says victory for her side in Sweden could secure the future of the women's game in this country.

Last Updated: 12/07/13 at 08:16 Post Comment

England were unbeaten in qualifying for the tournament and will be hoping to go one step further than in 2009, when they were beaten in the final by Germany.

"I think it would mean all the good work over the years would all be worth it," Powell told Sky Sports. "Hopefully we could get more investment and the game would be professionalised sooner rather than later."

England vice-captain Alex Scott, who looks set to earn her 100th cap whilst playing out in Linkoping, agrees that international success will propel the game forward.

The Arsenal Ladies player said: "That interest is creeping in. It's a really exciting time. We could be the group that push the game forward. The expectation is for us to go out and win and we want to win."

Direction

England are no strangers to reaching the knockout stages at major tournaments, having made the quarter-finals of the 2007 and 2011 World Cups either side of their Euro 2009 runners-up run.

But it is reigning champions and seven-time winners Germany who are the clear tournament favourites.

Although England are on an 11-match unbeaten run in competitive matches stretching over 16 months, Powell concedes there is a gulf in class between her side and the European champions.

"We had a UEFA study visit where we went to Germany; we try and look at what everyone else in the world is doing," she said.

"We have to remember that Germany have a larger pool of players to choose from and that helps them massively. Germany Women 20-25 years ago were in the same position as we are. It takes time but the FA are investing more and we are heading in the right direction.

"It's important to recognise we have our own culture and our own DNA, it's important to work with that, but we will continue to strive to become the leading nation in women's football."

Olympics

Much of the FA backing Powell talks about came as a result of a successful London 2012 Olympics for women's Team GB, who reached the quarter-finals in their first-ever tournament.

Attendance records were broken in the process - 70, 584 watched Great Britain beat Brazil, while 80,203 watched USA beat Japan in the final, the second biggest attendance ever for a women's game internationally.

Overall crowds of 660,986 watched 26 games around the country (an average of 24,944 per match).

Globally the game has experienced huge growth with 29 million women and girls playing football worldwide.

The Women's World Cup 2011 in Germany demonstrated the commercial potential of the sport in the long term both in broadcast (rights sold in 200 territories) and sponsorship revenues ($30m in Local Organising Committee sponsorship).

WSL

In autumn 2012 the FA, who are celebrating 20 years of running the women's game, pledged its support to put the UK at the forefront of women's football with a five-year plan, 'Game Changer', which will see them plough in £5.4million of investment and commit to increase participation and performance on and off the pitch.

One such commitment is the new two-tier WSL (Women's Super League) which will be introduced in 2014.

Powell has been head coach for England for 15 years, and sees this as the turning point: "It makes it more competitive - everyone wants to play in the top flight of football.

"The fact they (the FA) have invested heavily in the WSL is a really positive message that says 'we want a really strong domestic programme so it helps our international team'.

And hopefully one day those teams will be competing for the Champions League and winning the Champions League, and then we can consider ourselves one of the best leagues in the world."

Scott is in no doubt the new WSL structure will improve the standard of players: "It adds that incentive for teams in tier two to want to get promotion and play with the top sides."

Meanwhile, Liverpool Ladies have reached a new landmark, becoming the first fully professional side, and Powell sees this as the start of things to come and hopes other clubs will follow, but she also issues a warning: "We have had an influx of foreign players in our league and the danger is we get too many."

Youth

The England Women's youth set up is seen to be the key to the senior team's future international success, after the under 17s and under 19s both won major tournaments - something the men's equivalents cannot boast.

In fact, it was well documented recently how England Men's U21 were unable to reach the knockout stages at this year's European Championships in Israel.

There was much criticism of the Premier League with only 2.28% of England U21 players having experienced playing in the top league in England.

Scott added: "If you look at this current team the likes of myself, Karen Carney and Eni Aluko, we all came through that youth rank system and players like Jordan Nobbs and Toni Duggan who have played at European Championships at youth level went on to win.

"Now they are coming in to their first major senior championships and that shows the growth of women's football and the structures that are in place."

The future is looking bright for women's football, but, as Powell has acknowledged, it will look even brighter should England Women be crowned European Champions on July 28.

But first England need to qualify from an awkward Group C, which includes second favourites France, Russia and Spain. They begin their campaign on Friday evening against Spain.

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