Kelly Smith has toiled for four months to rebuild fitness for Women's Euro 2013.
The fight has continued in Linkoping, where the finest England player of her generation has been a regular at the local swimming pool – complete with buoyancy suit – in an attempt to feature at what may prove her final international tournament. The reward? Fifteen minutes to help save a losing cause and face against Russia. "It's all been worth it just to keep us in the tournament," she insists. "Hopefully I've got more to give later on." Smith will not get the chance unless England emulate her power of recovery.
Hope Powell's team can guarantee a quarter-final spot with victory over France on Thursday, after Denmark's surprise draw with Finland in Group A simplified the permutations for qualifying in third place. Nothing else has been straightforward for England in Sweden. Powell's team have malfunctioned twice whereas France enter the Group C finale having reinforced their status among the favourites against Russia and Spain. They have not lost to England since 1974 and are the only team at Euro 2013 boasting a 100% record.
"It's massive," says Smith, England's all-time leading goalscorer. "It's going to be a battle, they are a great side and are favourites to win. We played them a few months ago and were 2-0 up but they came back to draw 2-2. We always play well against them but I just hope the team can show up and play better than the previous two games.
"A big performance is much needed from everybody. Players have got to look at themselves and ask whether they performed to their best in the games so far. I don't think a lot of our players have performed to the level they are capable of in the two games."
Smith's superiority was evident within seconds of her 78th-minute introduction against Russia on Monday. Even short of match fitness, the Arsenal striker's quality shone amid an increasingly laboured England display and, with three minutes of stoppage time almost up, was instrumental in Toni Duggan's equaliser. Duggan is one of several changes that Powell needs to make against France.
Smith will continue to provide insurance from the bench but has no complaints after four months in the treatment room. "The problem is my tibia, where I broke my leg a year or so ago," explained the striker. "I've got metal work in there and I took a whack on it against Torres (in the Champions League in March) and it caused a load of tissue damage. It's been a hard four months dealing with this injury again. The emotional roller coaster you go through, and I didn't know if I wanted to be part of it again, it's up and down. I've had loads of conversations with Hope about getting me to St George's Park for hands-on treatment every day. With club football we only train twice a week and physio time is limited and I needed daily treatment."
Injuries have plagued Smith throughout a career that brought the acclaim of one of the best players in the world and, at 34, she concedes Euro 2013 may be her last international competition. "It possibly is, yes, although I'm just in it right now, not thinking about the next year or the year after," she said. "I'm just happy that I'm part of it because for a long time I didn't think I would make it again. I was at St George's Park for five weeks for extensive rehab so it was lucky I made it just at the cut-off point for the squad. If the team can do it against France without bringing me on the field I'll quite happily sit on the bench, but I do feel I could give more, 20 or 30 minutes, if needed."
England probable 4-2-3-1 Bardsley; A Scott, Bassett, Stoney, Houghton; J Scott, Asante; Aluko, Nobbs, Carney; Duggan.
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