It will be no easy task for UEFA Women's EURO 2009 runners-up England to go one better at next summer's FIFA Women's World Cup but goalkeeper Rachel Brown told UEFA.com: "Nothing less than getting to the final stages is good enough."
England will discover their opponents for the finals in Germany when the draw is made in Frankfurt on Monday, Hope Powell's side having topped a group containing Spain and beaten Switzerland 5-2 on aggregate to qualify. In 2007 they were in the World Cup for the first time in 12 years but their run to the quarter-finals and their EURO 2009 performance in Finland means England are a team to avoid in the draw.
"It was a bit of a long-winded process but we're happy just to be in the competition," Brown said. "For quite a lot of the girls it's our second opportunity in the World Cup, and it was such an amazing experience last time in China. In between that we've had the European Championship, where we got to the final, so going into this next World Cup our expectations as a team are going to be a lot higher than three years ago."
Indeed, England are now a fixture at the top of the rankings, a big change from when Brown made her international debut in 1997, the year before Powell took the new full-time position of coach. "That's something that we've had to speak about as a team," the 30-year-old Everton goalkeeper said. "Now the expectations are really high on us. We're expected to beat certain teams we come up against and progress into final stages of competitions. That's never really been an expectation of the England senior team.
"But I've played for England for nearly 14 years and the hard work it has taken to get to this standard, and the progress we've made, has been phenomenal and is really a credit to Hope Powell who has put all these stages of improvement in place – she set the wheels in motion – and also for the girls who've sacrificed their social life, money and time to pick up the standard of the international team.
It's wonderful to be in a position where teams are really up for beating England because we're a decent outfit nowadays. Nothing less than getting to the final stages is good enough."
Preparations began last month with a trip to the Peace Queen Cup in Korea Republic, where England drew 0-0 with the hosts and New Zealand, vital experience against unfamiliar non-European opposition of the sort they will face in Germany. "Last time we had Argentina and Japan in our group, and we'd never played Argentina and Japan before," Brown said. "It wasn't coming in blind as our scouts had done some scouting, but we had not had any experience against these teams."
Now the work continues. "The months leading up to the World Cup are going to be quite intense, a lot of games, competitions and training," Brown said. "And on a personal note, I hope I'm there!"