England are genuine contenders to win the Women’s World Cup – and Lionesses legend Sue Smith insists they will back themselves against anyone.
Phil Neville’s side, fresh off the back of their SheBelieves Cup triumph, are third favourites to be crowned world champions in France ahead of their opener against Scotland on Sunday.
An unprecedented buzz surrounds the Lionesses as they bid to taste World Cup glory for the first time ever.
However, much like the men’s team, their history at the tournament is a story of heartbreak and disappointment.
Smith, who made 93 appearances for her country, believes the women used to fear the likes of Germany and the USA – but not anymore.
Speaking at a William Hill pre-World Cup event, Smith told talkSPORT: “They’ll be going there to win the tournament.
“That’s their aim and that’s their focus. All of the buzz around is just nice for them to know they’ve got the backing of the country behind them.
“There’s a belief now that England can go into tournaments and win them, or at least get to the final. I think that will be what they expect.
“They’ve done a lot of work around the psychology of playing for some of these major teams. I remember when we played against Germany and we were sort of beaten before we even went out there.
“As soon as the first goal went in, you would see heads start to drop. You don’t see that now.
“This team go out and believe they can compete with anybody, they can beat anyone in the world.”
Smith, who has emerged as one of the standout female pundits in the game, believes World Cup glory has the power to shift attitudes.
Women’s Super League attendances grew by 50 per cent after the Lionesses came third at the 2015 World Cup, while the 2017 European Championships drew record viewing figures for women’s football in the UK.
But there is still work to be done, according to Smith, and the Lionesses could play a crucial role in France.
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“When I first started playing, which was a long time ago now, the attitudes have changed dramatically,” Smith added.
“The support that the girls have got – at the last tournament and at this tournament with the amount of people watching, the media coverage – it’s taken it onto another level.
“Of course, there are still certain people with certain attitudes that we have to change, and you’d hope that England going there and winning the tournament might do that.
“Each year, we’ve seen an improvement and a growth. I think Canada showed that there was an interest and an appetite there. The games were on at 12/1 o’clock at night and people were staying up to watch it.
“People fell in love with the women’s game and they’ve kept following England and watching some of the bigger games. Now, it seems like there’s a huge buzz around.”
The Lionesses are 7/1 with William Hill to win the Women’s World Cup.
Listen to every England game live on talkSPORT – and tune in for their opener against Scotland on Sunday at 5pm.