England proving to be more than just Smith

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One of the indelible images of the 2007 Women's World Cup was England forward Kelly Smith scoring a late equalizer against Japan, removing her gold-colored shoes and kissing them in celebration.

Smith had plenty to be happy about in 2007 as she established herself as one of the world's top players by scoring four goals in four games to help England reach the quarterfinals of the competition for the first time in 12 years.

The Three Lionesses were easily dismissed by the United States, 3-0, in the knockout round in 2007, but Hope Powell's team entered the 2011 competition with increased confidence. And after two shaky performances in its opening two games, England put together an impressive 2-0 win over Japan to finish on top of Group B.

Many felt that England would only go as far as Smith could take it in Germany, but the 32-year-old, who is likely playing in her final World Cup, has yet to get off the mark, with players like Ellen White, Jill Scott and Rachel Yankey stepping forward.

Many felt that England would only go as far as Kelly Smith could take it in Germany.
In 2007, the United States focused on shutting down Smith by constantly having two players get in her way to frustrate her.

But as Powell acknowledged following the win over Japan on Tuesday, "We are stronger than in 2007."

Stopping England's attack is more difficult now because there are many more options that can hurt you.

One such player is White, who is appearing in her first World Cup but who turned in one of the best performances at the tournament during the group- stage match against Japan.

The 22-year-old gives England a legitimate threat up top, which they lacked in 2007, and after scoring the opening goal in the match against the Japanese, she nearly scored the goal of the tournament with an acrobatic overhead kick that forced the goalkeeper to tip the ball onto the crossbar to keep it out.

With players like White, Scott and Yankey firing on all cylinders, Smith can instead focus on becoming more of a distributor, making life harder on opposing defenses.

Life was plenty hard for England in the first two games as the team was held to a 1-1 draw by Mexico before battling back for a 2-1 victory over New Zealand.

"In the last couple of games we have been a bit tense and maybe the pressure has got to us a little bit," Smith said prior to the game with Japan.

But England turned in a complete effort against the Japanese, shutting down a strong attack while finally starting to put some things together offensively.

"To beat Japan definitely gives us more confidence going into the quarterfinals," said White. "We are really proud, so hopefully we can be positive and take this into the next game."

The next game for England in the quarterfinals is France, a solid team but one that is not as strong as the United States in 2007.

England has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals at the Women's World Cup, but Saturday's meeting with the French will offer them a great chance to get there.

Smith has scored 43 goals in 106 appearances for England during her career, and although she has looked below her best in Germany so far, you have to think that she still has one last great performance left.

Saturday's match with France would be a great time for Smith to rediscover her top form, but it's nice for her to know that even if she doesn't, England will still have a chance.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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