England ready to play, eager to win
WOLFSBURG, Germany -- The time has come to see if Team England's high expectations for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup will come to fruition -- or culminate in another frustrating failure.
The team practiced Sunday in Wolfsburg's Arena Im Allerpark, in advance of Monday's Group B match against Mexico. The English are viewed as the favorites, with more veterans on their roster than the younger Mexican team.
The English squad laughed and looked relaxed as it went through a light practice, checking out the feel of the natural turf in the intimate setting of Wolfsburg's 25,361-seat Bundesliga pro stadium. The Mexican team also appeared light-hearted during its session, as players also examined their new surroundings.
Both teams have been in Wolfsburg for the past few days, but this was the first time practicing was permitted in the game venue.
England captain Faye White said her team is quite ready to start the World Cup. She knows the English press is speculating about her team's chances, wondering if this will be the year England will make a deep run.
"I don't think we feel pressure, because when you're away, you don't get to see much or hear much about it, which is good really, because we have a lot to concentrate on," White said Sunday. "We have the expectations on ourselves. It's good to know there is a bit of buzz back home, with articles and press backing us. But we have to concentrate on what we have to do here. We'll worry about that [the press] after we play the games."
White also removed some question marks about her health, revealing she has recovered from a right hamstring strain that hampered her over the past few weeks.
England's recent preparations for the World Cup have been up-and-down, judging by some practice-match losses. Australia most recently defeated England 2-0 on Thursday.
Coach Hope Powell was asked if that could be a sign of how her team is playing.
"You can read into them whatever you like," Powell said, adding a sly smile. "It's typical, really, the training games serve a great purpose. … The last two training games we have not done too well. We obviously need to address that … and certainly in the game [Monday], and all the games, they mean something. I think more importantly, when the points are at stake, that's when you want performance."
The English have had a costly habit of starting big tournaments slowly. In the opener of the 2007 World Cup in China, the Three Lionesses were down by one for most of the game to Japan. The game finished in a 2-2 tie with a flurry of late goals, but the draw was costly in points.
White wants her team to come out strongly -- and quickly -- to put itself in a good position and ultimately advance out of Group B.
"We view the first game as important," White said. "We've had two tournaments in the past where we haven't gotten the results we wanted, and it's been hard. … We're really hoping, obviously, as we've put the team together, to put ourselves in a good position from here on out."
Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar sees England as the clear favorite and hopes his team can do its best under the pressure of its first World Cup appearance since 1999. Forward Victoria Perez will not be available to play, as FIFA suspended her Sunday for an accumulation of yellow cards.
"We know we need to play a very complete game," Cuellar said. "We need to be perfect. We need to play a perfect game."
Powell, who is in her third World Cup -- one as a player for England, and now two as the team's coach -- understands to expect the unexpected. She has laid the best plans and preparations for her team, and now hopes the effort will bring rewards.
"Football is a funny game," Powell said. "What you think will happen, doesn't.
"You never know."