There was a long pause as Sir Trevor Brooking, the Football Association's director of football development, considered the question: "Who do you think will win the World Cup first, the men, or the women?"
"Good question," he said, before proceeding to discuss the issue at length, without answering it. However, with the men's next finals in Brazil, which he said would "be very difficult to win," Brooking conceded the women were likely to have two attempts before the men's next realistic chance in 2018.
The first of these comes later this month in Germany and yesterday Hope Powell, England's manager, named her 21-woman squad for the 16-team finals. The venue was Somerset House, one of London's landmark buildings and Brazil's Olympic HQ next summer. It was a glitzy launch with Brooking, FA chairman, David Bernstein, a dozen of the squad and as many PR present. This followed a reception by the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday, further underlining how far the women's game has come.
"Today is great, so was going to No 10," said Powell. "It makes the girls feel special. I think it is important that the girls are appreciated, they work very hard."
Five of the team are based in the United States where they play in one of the few female professional leagues. The rest play in the semi-pro WSL (Women's Super League), the FA's new summer league. There was much talk about the improved levels of competition the league has brought in with the dilution of Arsenal's dominance illustrated in that while they supplied four players, so did Everton, with four other WSL teams featuring. The biggest surprise is the absence of experienced winger Sue Smith. Faye White, the inspirational captain is included despite an injury-hit year. Arsenal team-mate Rachel Yankey, surprisingly omitted for the 2009 European Championship, returns.
England's prospects are in line with the men's team in tournaments: if key players stay fit and they avoid the big guns the semi-finals are achievable, then they will need luck. The first task is to avoid meeting hosts Germany – who thrashed England in the final of Euro 2009 – in the quarter-finals, which probably means topping a group containing Mexico (27 June), New Zealand (1 July) and Japan (5 July).Reuse content