Thursday 23 August 2018, 07:57

Smith: England will reach the final

  • England legend Kelly Smith shares her Women’s World Cup memories

  • Smith also gives her take on the current Lionesses side

  • “Neville wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t believe his team would win"

Discussions have raged for decades about how well a player from a bygone era would slot into the modern game, whether it would be seamless or if the game has moved on too much. There would be little argument, however, that a Kelly Smith in the prime of her career — she scored 46 goals in 117 England appearances — would be a force to be reckoned with in the modern game.

With the Lionesses marching on towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, and hoping to go one better than their third-placed finish at Canada 2015, caught up with Smith to discuss her Women’s World Cup memories, her thoughts on the current side and their prospects in France. What was your most memorable moment at the Women’s World Cup? Kelly Smith: It was my first major tournament in China, after more than ten years with the national team, and in the first game I scored two goals against Japan, that is probably what I’m most recognised for! I’d worked so hard so I wasn’t going to let it pass me by. I'd dreamt of scoring in a World Cup, and all the visualisations that I’d done the night before helped me mentally going into that game.

And your most emotional moment at the global finals? My dad was the only one out there [in China]. He’s my biggest fan. He knew my build-up to that, how much it meant to me as a person to play on the biggest stage. We’d been through it together. I remember the arena, you walked up a load of steps to get onto the playing field and all the cameras were taking pictures. When I was in the line-up for the national anthem I was really emotional because I saw my dad in the crowd.

What kind of contrast was there to that moment, walking out for your Women’s World Cup debut, and the very beginning of your England career? My [England] debut was when I was just 17, playing against Italy. I remember being so excited and nervous at the same time walking out - and being really proud. I probably did too much on the ball because I was trying to do everything and impress.

Walking out in China, they were the same feelings but heightened because of the magnitude of the occasion. You can’t get any bigger than playing a World Cup for a male or female. As a kid growing up you always wanted to play on the biggest stage and lift that trophy. I didn’t get to do it myself, but the dream was there.

The current England team will be dreaming of lifting that trophy next year. What are your thoughts on the current Lionesses squad? I think they’ve got a good mixture with the youth coming through to do well in the tournament. They’ve got really good attacking players like Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris, a lot of pace up front. In the past, England – when I was playing – struggled with that; there wasn’t really a lot of pace apart from Eni Aluko.

Defensively I think they’re solid. I still think they need to be a little bit better playing out from the back, more comfortable on the ball and playing through the midfield. I think Phil’s (Neville) got a great bunch of girls who are so eager and want to learn and win a major tournament. The opportunity is on a plate for them.

What do you make of Phil Neville’s appointment as coach? I’ve spoken to a few of the players since he was appointed and his love and enthusiasm for the game is really coming across. He’s a winner, he’s played for Manchester United and won everything with them, so he’s going to want to stamp his playing style on that England team with a World Cup win. He wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t believe his team would win.

Is there any player in the squad that specifically reminds you of yourself? The way Fran Kirby plays, she’s very dynamic in the final third, which I was. She’s got a change of pace which always helps as an attacking player and she’s buzzing all the time to get on the ball.

She’s one of those players who, when she’s playing on a consistent basis and is confident, is scoring. I think she’s the go-to player for England. She’s very attack-minded, has a low centre of gravity, which is hard to defend against, and has an eye for goal. If she can stay fit and get another good season under her belt, the world is probably her oyster at the next World Cup.

And what of the side’s chances in France next year? I think England will reach the final. I think they’re more than capable of doing it. It’s just grinding out those performances - when the game’s really close, not conceding and maybe nicking a goal.