Runners-up in 2009, England remain formidable and enter the tournament with a strong record but a tough group lies in wait
The Observer, Saturday 6 July 2013 22.00 BST
England's Anita Asante, heading for Euro 2013 confident her side can perform well in a difficult group. Photograph: Tom Dulat/The FA via Getty Images
England's women will hope to banish the memories of a shock friendly defeat against the tournament hosts Sweden just days from embarking on their first Euro 2013 campaign group game against Spain on Friday. Hope Powell's side lost 4-1 to a team ranked two places above them at fifth in the world in their heaviest defeat in four years. The result stunned the previously in-form side who had gone unbeaten in 11 games, over a period of 16 months, a string of results which included an impressive 1-1 draw against the world champions Japan.
England, who made history by reaching their first final against Germany in 2009, will not have lost their quality overnight, however. Ranked fourth in Europe, and with seven of the players about to appear in their fifth tournament, an experienced core is at the heart of a talented side that includes Arsenal's young midfielder Jordan Nobbs and Everton's 21-year-old striker Toni Duggan.
"It gives us more belief," says the England and Gothenburg midfielder Anita Asante of that final, when England were beaten 6-2 by Silvia Neid's side. "You know what it's like to reach that point, you know it's attainable, it doesn't seem so far away. And I think the fact that we played some really tough teams, and we met Germany who are an amazing team, means that we know we can challenge and compete with the best in the world. Having that feeling is something that you never really lose, so in a competition that's something that when the stakes are really high and you need a push in a game to win, that's the spirit you can take from.
"Reaching the final of the Euros was an important step for any squad or team because you know how important it is to fight to get to that point. To win is the next step. But before you can even think that far ahead you have to deal with every stage of the competition and every obstacle, and for us that's our group."
England are pitted against tough opponents in Spain, France – ranked one place above England – and Russia, in a 12-team tournament across three groups. The top two teams in each group qualify for the quarter-finals, with the two best third-placed teams making up the final eight. Which means England could face European champions Germany, who have won the last five titles, in the quarter-finals, should the holders win their group and Powell's side finish as runners-up.
Are Germany, a side against whom England's best result was a 0-0 draw, once again the favourites? "I never ever, ever underestimate the Germans," says the 28-year-old Asante despite the news that Germany, ravaged by illness and injury, will be without five key players. "We're hearing they've had a few injuries, but what I know about them, even from youth football, [is] they've always had an ability to turn out players like for like so I'm sure it's not something that will faze them too much."
Asante, the only squad member still playing in a foreign league after the collapse of the Women's Professional Soccer league in the United States saw English players return en masse to their domestic competition, provides an interesting insight into England's group opposition. Playing in Sweden's Damallsvenskan – a full-time professional league that attracts some of the biggest stars in the global game, including Brazil's five-times world player of the year Marta, and enjoying good media coverage with live games broadcast on Swedish television each week – the former Arsenal player is familiar with many of the key opponents that England will face next week.
"There are lots from Sweden's national team, but in the Spanish team Verónica Boquete who also plays in the top team here [Tyreso FF],while Adriana Martín I played with in America at Sky Blue. I've got feedback from my American team-mate, Yael Averbuch, on Russia because she played with a Russian team last season so I have an idea that they'll be quite technical, a good fast-paced attacking type team. France, we've played them so many times, every single player in our squad is probably familiar with every player in their squad, and the majority of those players have played at Lyon [Champions League runners-up], so a lot of us have had the opportunity to watch them play this year."
Back home the nation can watch all of England's group games live across the BBC channels as Jacqui Oatley fronts an unprecedented level of coverage of the women's game in this country. A total of 16 matches will be broadcast live, including the final on 28 July, as well as previews and highlights shows.