Phillip plots route from Peckham to a Shanghai surprise

The Arsenal defender is aiming high as England prepare to travel to the World Cup in China, writes Conrad Leach
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Only a few days before setting off to commence final preparations for the World Cup, Mary Phillip was refereeing five-a-side games and handing out the cups and medals to some young footballers in one of the poorest parts of London. Surrounded by graffiti on the pitch's inner walls and with broken wire fencing behind one of the goals, the England international was helping out in Peckham, the part of south-east London where she grew up. Yet next week in China, she faces a very different proposition to working amidst the run-down facilities that comprise part of her day job.

However, this foray to Asia does not constitute the 30-year-old's first World Cup as she was part of the 1995 squad. Back then they went a little less further afield, to Sweden, when the competition only featured 12 teams.

Phillip sat out that entire campaign, aged 18, not playing a single minute. However, now she has 50 caps, the central defender is a key and experienced part of the 21-strong squad. The event starts on Monday, with England's first game the following day against Japan.

The Arsenal defender, whose two sons will be with her in China, is honest about the task they face, given the presence in their group of Germany, the reigning world champions.

She says: "It's tough. But I think our hardest games will be against those teams we don't know much about, like Japan and Argentina. At least we've played Germany a lot."

She is, however, looking beyond those first three games, adding: "It's vital to get through the group and into the quarter-finals."

The last time England were in a major competition was when they hosted the European Championship two years ago. The failure then to get out of the group still rankles with her.

She recalls: "In 2005 we produced some of our best ever football. Luck was not on our side in the group games. Hopefully this time with a bit of luck and hard work we'll go further."

Yet simply qualifying for China, where they will face difficult weather conditions, with intense humidity, was a great feat for a side that trails in terms of its funding compared to their rivals at the World Cup.

"The American women are looked after very well by their association," she says. "The money they get is far greater than the amount we receive. That's no disrespect to the help we get. A lot of people have been helping us out to get money together but compared to Germany or the USA, their rewards and backing are far greater than ours."

Qualifying under manager Hope Powell – a player with Phillip in 1995 – included a 13-0 win in Hungary. More importantly they drew twice with France, which guaranteed reaching the World Cup at their expense.

Phillip is used to success. She won four trophies with Arsenal last season – the League Championship plus the FA, League and Uefa Cups – and she knows that a good run in the World Cup will see the women's game here gain a much higher profile. She says: "There was a big boost after the European Championship. I know if we get to the last eight it would make a huge impact on the women's game. It could lift the game four-fold."

Standing in their way as possible World Cup winners will be the hosts, as well as Germany and Sweden. But, as Phillip puts it: "we can mess it up and put ourselves in there. Hopefully we can get to the final itself." And if she does that, it will be her turn to show off a medal to the kids in Peckham.

England's World Cup group fixtures:

11 Sept: Japan at Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium

14 Sept: Germany at Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium

17 Sept: Argentina at Chengdu Sports Center