England's White shining bright
Ellen White has come a long way since watching England's quarter-final performance in the 2007 Women's World Cup as a teenager at home and, this year, is confident of overcoming hosts Germany, who will be looking to win their third successive title.
The Arsenal striker, who rejoined the club in 2010, established herself as one of the stars of the domestic women's game after finishing as top scorer at Chelsea for three successive seasons and picking up the Women's Premier League Cup with Leeds.
While at Leeds, White made her England breakthrough, scoring on her debut against Austria in a World Cup qualifier at Loftus Road, and an impressive qualifying campaign which saw Hope Powell's side drop just two points has given her cause for optimism in Germany.
"Obviously Germany are the favourites, but now people are saying that we are," White said, speaking from the England base in Wolfsburg. "That's not the sort of thing that we've had before.
''Previously people have thought that we've been quite easy to beat, but I think over the past few years we have improved. Hopefully we will get out of the group and then, with a little bit of luck, we will go as far as possible."
England face Mexico in their first Group B encounter on Monday night and, despite rarely having seen the South Americans in action, the Arsenal forward is convinced that the team are as prepared as they can be. "Hope Powell has watched Mexico on a number of occasions but they're a bit of an unknown,'' she said. ''She wants everyone to know the opposition's strengths and weaknesses. She's meticulous in everything she does. She is a great manager and a great coach.
"Because we have watched them we can analyse them from that, but we're not 100% sure about them. I'm sure they are going to be a great team. There is such a small gap between the top teams at the moment. It's definitely going to be the most competitive World Cup yet."
White, however, knows that it will be tough to get out of the group, which also features Japan, currently ranked No. 5 in the world, as well as New Zealand who were also unbeaten in qualifying for Germany 2011.
"Japan are technically very good, busy and good with the ball at their feet. The last time we played them, in 2007, we drew 2-2. They're a very good teamm'' she said. "New Zealand we have played a few times now and with an English manager they're going to be really up for it. Every game is going to be a final. Everybody wants to win and perform at a World Cup."
White, 22, who has five goals in 14 England caps, is one of five squad members making their World Cup debut, but with the likes of captain Faye White, Rachel Yankey and Kelly Smith included in the squad, there looks to be a healthy mix of youth and experience, not to mention the mentorship of manager Powell, who White maintained is a great influence on the squad.
"Hope's been our manager for about 13 years now and the amount of young girls and women that have taken part in football since she has come aboard has been tremendous. She is an inspiration for women's football," she said.
White is doing her bit for the women's game, too. This season she has already won the FA Cup as well as making her mark on the inaugural Women's Super League season.
The WSL, which launched in April this year, has received great backing from the FA and the media in an effort to raise the profile of the women's game and White is sure that a successful performance from the national team in Germany will ensure that crowds will increase when the league returns from its mid-season break at the end of July.
"It has been a big year for women's football with the start of the WSL, the Women's Champions League and now the World Cup,'' she said. ''It has been a massive boost for the sport and they've all helped each other. "The FA has put a lot of money into the WSL and the media coverage is great and will hopefully continue. The highlights show on ESPN has been a big bonus in getting people watching it too. The standard is more competitive and a lot of the teams now have a wide spread of international players."
White also plays an active part in raising the profile of the sport and insists that the future is bright. "Along with Faye White we go into schools to do a bit of coaching and getting kids on board and getting them to enjoy their football,'' she said. "The main thing you can do is leave a legacy for them and so hopefully they will come through in the future. The kids really enjoy it and are really enthusiastic.
"They're all really interested in what it is like to play for Arsenal and England and are really keen to learn. It's really humbling to see that level of enthusiasm and I love getting involved - I turn into a kid myself, running around and playing along - but it's really good to see how much they enjoy playing. Hopefully that will continue."
"It would be brilliant if the women's game in England became as big as it is in America. It is such a massive sport out there - a different world. The way it has grown in the last few years here has been brilliant and if it continues to grow and the number of girls playing doubles and triples then hopefully it is something to look forward to."
While it may be unusual for Arsenal's No. 9 to class Tottenham legend Gary Lineker as her idol when growing up, White hopes that one day the next generation of female players look to fellow women stars for inspiration.
"It would be amazing but that will only ever happen if the media interest continues and girls are exposed to women's football a little bit more,'' he said. ''It's definitely improved from when I was younger and hopefully it will keep on growing. Obviously when you turn on the TV or read the paper it is the men's game you see. Hopefully the role models will alter a little bit and they look up to idols of their own sex. That would be brilliant."
A successful tournament in Germany may go a long way to ensuring it happens.