England’s build-up to this year’s Women’s European Championship finals, set to take place in this country during July, continues with a mighty tough fixture against eight times Euro winners Germany at Molineux on Wednesday evening.
The Lionesses have won only one of the 26 matches so far played between the two nations. And if anyone doubts the historical footballing supremacy of the Germans, just ask former Wolves and England player Rachel Unitt.
Left back Unitt’s 100th international cap is on display in the Wolves museum along with her 2009 Euro runners-up medal – runners-up by quite a margin as in the final, held in Helsinki, the Lionesses were thumped 6-2 by Germany.
“They smashed us,” admits Unitt. “They over-ran us that day and they were always our toughest opponents. Them and America were consistently the top two teams in the world, but we seemed to have a fear about playing Germany.”
The fear factor was erased in 2015, two years after Unitt had departed the international scene with a total of 102 caps, when the Lionesses beat the old foe 1-0 in the bronze medal match at World Cup finals staged in Canada.
“We’ve got closer to them as time’s gone on,” adds Unitt, “and it would be great to see the girls beat them at Molineux on Wednesday night. If they do that it will be a massive confidence booster going into the Euro finals.”
Wednesday’s clash, set for a 7.30pm kick-off, will conclude the four-nation Arnold Clark Cup, a tournament that also includes Spain and Canada – who five hours before the England-Germany contest will also meet at Molineux.
“This tournament’s a great idea ahead of the Euros,” says Unitt. “England have won their last six matches, most of them very comfortably, but none of their opponents in those games were anywhere near as strong as these three.
“A good set of results will set the girls up for the Euros, and I’m feeling optimistic about their chances in the finals. The squad’s got a nice balance of old heads and exciting young talent, and I’m confident we’ll be strong contenders.
“When I was in the team we never got beyond quarter-finals apart from reaching that 2009 final. But we’ve now reached the semi-finals of the last two World Cups and the 2017 Euros, so hopefully this time we can go all the way.”
Unitt enjoyed a 13-year international career after taking her first steps with Wolves, who she joined as a 14-year-old and played several times for England at Under-18 level before leaving the club to join top flight Everton.
As well as Everton she had successful spells with Fulham and Birmingham City, winning the FA Cup four times, the League Cup three times and the Premier League (forerunner to the Super League) once.
Add that honours list to the 102 England appearances she amassed and that’s quite a career the Walsall-born left back, now 39, enjoyed before having her playing days curtailed by a cruciate ligament injury.
“I had some great days with England and the top clubs I played for,” says Unitt, “but Wolves will always have a place in my heart because that’s where it all started for me as a young kid who just loved playing football.
“It was when the manager at the time, Mark Williams, sent me for England Under-18 trials that I started to take the game really seriously, and it was the grounding I had at Wolves that set me up for the career I had.”