The spotlight on England will be greater than ever at Women's Euro 2013 but it is fiercer competition that explains Hope Powell's cautious approach.
There should be no talk of emulating 2009's progress to the final in Finland, the head coach insists, when the first obstacle in Sweden is so formidable.
Powell's pragmatism is understandable before the tournament, which starts with Italy versus Finland on Wednesday followed by England's awkward Group C opener against Spain on Friday. Having arrived in Sweden last week with injury concerns but also an 11-match unbeaten run stretching over 16 months, Powell's team, ranked seventh in the world and fourth in Europe, were beaten 4-1 in their final warm-up match by the hosts. Powell's belief that the landscape has changed since 2009 because of the advance of several European teams was painfully reinforced.
"I think there has been improvement across the board," says Powell, who guided England to the final in 2009 where the serial winners Germany emphatically obstructed their path to glory with a 6-2 win. "Any team could progress out of our group and know what it takes to do it, and there are so many variables in this 12-team tournament as well.
"You could get so many different teams in the knockout stage depending on whether you finish first, second or as one of the two third-place qualifiers, and you can't plan for that. Sometimes it is a matter of luck. In Finland we qualified third in our group and that meant we faced Finland in the quarter-final [winning 3-2] instead of going down the other route [involving Germany] and went on to reach the final. The best preparation is simply to go out and try and win every game."
France, second favourites for a tournament that Germany have won seven times, and Russia complete England's opponents in Group C. Powell adds: "I wouldn't describe it as a 'Group of Death' but it is certainly tough. All the groups are going to be challenging. Spain and France are two very, very good sides. France have got high expectations for this tournament. They are looking at a place in the final, which could be a good thing for us as it puts a lot of pressure on them. We all know how strong Spain are technically and Russia are one of those teams who come into a tournament not looking very good but always seem to perform once the tournament gets underway. We are in a tough, challenging group."
The media focus on the women's Euros will be significantly improved compared with past tournaments, with 16 matches shown live on the BBC up until and including the final on 28 July, and all of England's group games broadcast live. "I hope it is a watershed for the women's game," says Powell. "I think it could be. Hopefully we can change things for the better."
England lost two left-backs, Rachel Unitt and Claire Rafferty, to cruciate ligament injuries before the tournament and three key players – Kelly Smith, Casey Stoney and Karen Carney – arrived in Linkoping, where the team are based and will play their group matches, with fitness problems. But Powell believes those worries are balanced by the vast tournament experience within the England camp.
The head coach explains: "Our injury problems are well documented. We've got to hope that we stay injury-free, fit and healthy from here, and make a good start. It is so unpredictable. Are we capable of getting out of the group? Absolutely. But then so is everybody else.
"What we do have is a lot of experience and not only at the senior level. A lot of the players who have come through our youth course have experienced European and world championships. Tournaments are very, very different to our normal game – make no mistake – with a game, two days to recover and then you go again. "It is physically and mentally very demanding. You have to be able to sustain that for six games. If you have experienced that before you are better prepared for those demands, you know how it feels, you know how to prepare yourself, and we definitely have that throughout the squad. Hopefully we can bring that out."
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