England can go all the way and win the Women’s World Cup, says former Wolves and Lionesses star Rachel Unitt as she looks ahead to the knockout stages of the 24-nation tournament being staged in France.
Left back Unitt, whose four years as a teenager at Wolves kick-started a career that saw her win 102 international caps and every domestic honour at club level, was in the England squad for both the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.
And as a member of the team that reached the Euro 2009 final, which was sadly lost 6-2 to Germany, she knows all about how to work a way through an arduous tournament to get within touching distance of a gold medal.
Now 37 and working in the fire service while still living in her native Walsall, Unitt has watched on TV all three of England’s group games and as many of the other fixtures as her work schedule has allowed.
“I’ve been quite impressed with England so far,” she says, “but I don’t think they’ve reached their full potential yet and they’ll definitely have to do that if they’re going to end up winning the tournament – which I believe they can do.
“They’ve looked really good when they’ve had momentum in every one of their group games, but they’ve let things slip at times and I thought they could have conceded more second half goals than they did against Scotland and Japan.”
The Lionesses are set to face Cameroon in their Round of 16 tie on Sunday, when victory would pit them against either Norway or Australia in the quarter-final – with a potential semi-final against host nation France or favourites America.
“You can’t look too far ahead,” says Unitt. “I certainly think England can go all the way but they’ll have some tough tests including Cameroon, who are fast, physical and will be confident after winning their last group game against New Zealand.
“Having said that I’m sure England will beat Cameroon, and then I’ll back them to come through against either Norway or Australia – and with the Australians flying in their last two group games, I think it will be against them.
“There’ll be surprises right through the knockout stages though, so it’s a guessing game if you’re trying to make predictions. But England are good enough to go all the way with arguably the best squad we’ve ever had.
“They’re certainly full of confidence – I’ve been in touch with a couple of my old (England) team mates, Karen Carney and Jill Scott, and they’re saying the mood in the camp is great and they’re all itching to get the knockout rounds going.”
Carney and Scott, like Unitt, were both in the 2007 and 2011 World Cup squads and have remained firm friends with the ex-Wolves, Fulham, Everton and Birmingham full back – just like several of her old Wolves pals.
“I’m still in touch with a number of the old Wolves girls,” says Unitt. “My time with the club was great – lots of fun as well as some serious football, which helped me get into the England under-18 team while I was a Wolves player.
“When I was asked to join Wolves as a 14-year-old from my first club, Birchills Ramblers, I was reluctant at first; but deciding to make the move was the best thing I ever did – it set me off on a fantastic journey.”
The pinnacle of Unitt’s football journey was a 2009 Euro silver – now she is backing the Lionesses to strike gold at the 2019 World Cup. “I’ll be willing the girls on all the way,” she says, “and I’ll absolutely love it if we lift that trophy.”