This time last year I was writing columns for The Independent based around the men’s World Cup that was about to start in Brazil. I remember all the hype, the excitement and anticipation for the tournament to start.
Fast forward 12 months and here I am with a different kind of excitement, a different kind of hype and anticipation, as I embark on what will be my third Women’s World Cup for England.
This World Cup, in Canada, already feels like it’s going to be the biggest and best yet. When you hear all the hotels at match venues have sold out and that the final sold out in 24 hours, it makes you take a step back and go: “Wow – look how far the women’s game has come!”
The excitement was building before I had even met up with the team at St George’s Park. To be able to walk into WH Smith and buy my niece a Women’s World Cup Panini sticker book for her to collect while she sits at home and watches the tournament is unbelievable. I used to do this as a kid during a men’s World Cup.
I have to say I don’t know who was more excited opening the stickers and finding “shinies”, or finding England women players – my seven-year-old niece or my 32-year-old elder brother.
The launch of the new Fifa 16 computer game last week was also a huge moment. For the first time the game will feature female players – including myself and all my team-mates, which is simply incredible.
These may sound like silly little things, but as a female footballer growing up I never thought this would happen. Young aspiring female footballers now have female role models to look up to. I had to have a male role model because the women’s game was nowhere near as popular as it is now.
Having trained at St George’s Park, we then flew to Toronto for a week’s further training and acclimatization before moving yesterday to Moncton, New Brunswick, where we play our first game on Tuesday.Each step cranks up the excitement and all we can think about now is the tournament getting under way.
Every day there’s training, meetings and tactics to go over, but the last thing on your mind going to bed is that the opening game is imminent. You start to imagine what it’s going to look like, what it’s going to feel like when you walk out in your England jersey, because it’s now in touching distance.
You never forget any game that you play in a World Cup, but that first one is truly amazing. It’s the first time you hear the Fifa World Cup theme song played as you walk out on to the pitch. It’s the first time you get to experience the crowd and all the banners that are placed around the stadium. There is a real buzz of adrenaline. You remind yourself how hard you’ve worked to get to this point. Finally it’s here, you’re living it, it’s real.
I can recall every part of my World Cup debut, against Japan in 2007, when Kelly Smith scored two wonder goals and did that famous boot-kissing celebration. It was the same for the opening game against Mexico in 2011, when we were leading 1-0 until they scored a wonder goal to knock us back. Those feelings, emotions and memories will never be wiped and I’m just so excited that it’s happening all over again.
Our opening match is a tough one as our opponents, France, are quietly becoming one of the favorites to win the competition with the players they have. Of the other contenders, Germany are always in the mix because they know how to win on the big occasions. The Americans, with their ruthless, never-give-up mentality, will always be there or thereabouts too.
What about England? I keep getting asked by family, friends and the media: “Are we going to win it?”
In previous tournaments the scripted answer that we had to give to the media was: “The focus is to get out of the group stage – that’s all we’re concentrating on.” And rightly so. We all know if you don’t get out of the group you’re going home. However, this time there is no scripted answer. When people ask if we’re going to win it, my answer has been: “Well, I bloody well hope so!”
That’s what I’ve been working towards for the last 18 months of my life. The early morning training sessions when my body has been in agony, the sacrifices I’ve had to make, like missing family weddings and not seeing my niece perform in school concerts. I’ve been living every moment of my life to make sure I’m doing all I can to give myself the best possible chance to win a gold medal. So when people ask me the question that I’ve been asked many a time before, I can honestly say: “I, Alex Scott, believe this team can win the World Cup.”
Don’t get me wrong. I know we’re sixth in the Fifa world rankings and that we lost to Canada last week in our final warm-up game, so you may laugh and write us off – but in this team we have winners and I dare to dream the dream!
As a player, this is what you live for, to play on the big stage. On Tuesday we take on a team we haven’t beaten for more than 40 years in our opening game. It’s ironic that the team that ended our World Cup hopes on a penalty shoot-out four years ago, and left us heartbroken, the team that left me watching the semi-final and final back home on my sofa in England, is the one we face to get our campaign under way.
We go into this game with nothing to lose and everything to gain as we are most certainly the underdogs. Every game in a World Cup is like a World Cup final and I can’t wait for this first final of seven to begin!
Alex Scott plays for Arsenal Ladies. She has won 123 caps for EnglandReuse content