A year to the day after Fabio Capello's underachieving England went tumbling miserably out of the World Cup in South Africa, Hope Powell's Three Lionesses will be aiming to produce a far more impressive showing than their male counterparts when they open their Women's World Cup campaign in Germany this evening.
If Capello's men had fared better in their group they would have avoided Germany in the first knockout round, the game in Bloemfontein ending in a 4-1 defeat. Coincidentally, the women's team, who face Mexico in Wolfsburg in the first of their three group matches, are highly likely to meet the tournament favourites Germany in the quarter-finals if they finish second rather than top of their group.
Not that the national coach Powell, after seeing her side lose both of their final warm-up games last week, is thinking of a similar scenario to the men's team or pondering the odds of winning a place in the knockout stages. Instead, she is focused on preparing her charges for the meeting with Mexico – they will face New Zealand and Japan in their other group fixtures.
"If we play like how we played in our last two games we'll be going out of the tournament," Powell said, England having lost 3-0 to North Korea and then 2-0 to Australia in behind-closed-doors matches. "Luckily, they were friendlies," she added, "and, importantly, every player in the squad got good game time. But in terms of performance, it was not very good.
"We were better against Australia, but we weren't quite where we should be – and where we'll have to be in our group games. The players will have to put those two performances behind them if they want to stay in the tournament. Wondering about who we might meet in the quarter-final is not even in my thoughts – we just want to get out of the group, first or second."
England and Japan are the favourites to progress to the quarter-finals and Powell's team will certainly be expected to beat Mexico, who, at 22nd in the world are ranked 12 places below England.
The Mexicans were outstanding in qualifying, however, beating the United States – the world's top-ranked team – and forcing them to go through a play-off to reach the finals.
"Mexico are a good side," Powell said. "They have technical players who are very competitive as well as good on the ball and it will be a difficult game.
"They showed their qualities in an excellent win against the USA, but we recently beat them as well [2-1 in a friendly in April] and we'll be looking to perform as well as we did in that match to get the result we want in this first group game.
"The players' confidence might have been dented a little last week, but they've responded very positively in training and they've got to take that into the game. A good result can give us the momentum to, hopefully, get out of the group."
With the captain Faye White and the midfielder Fara Williams having been passed fit after recovering from injuries, Powell should be able to name her strongest side.
Probable England team (4-2-3-1): Bardsley (New Jersey Sky Blue); A Scott (Boston Breakers), F White (Arsenal), Stoney (Lincoln), Unitt (Everton); J Scott (Everton), Williams (Everton); Carney (Birmingham City), Smith (Boston Breakers), Yankey (Arsenal); E White (Arsenal).Kick-off: 5.15pm
Three lionesses: England's key players
Kelly Smith (Boston Breakers) England will look for inspiration from their striker, always a potential match-winner and rated one of the world's top five players for her wonderful ball skills, tenacity and shooting prowess.
Fara Williams (Everton) A holding midfielder with great passing ability from either foot, Williams is sometimes overextravagant in her use of the ball, but if she has a good World Cup then she will be a crucial ingredient in England's set-up.
Karen Bardsley (New Jersey Sky Blue) American-born of English parents, Bardsley has established herself as the national team's first-choice goalkeeper with some commanding performances that bode well for England's defence.Reuse content