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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Sue Smith gives verdict on Lionesses' World Cup chances and makes WSL title prediction

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England legend Sue Smith has dubbed the Lionesses as the “team to beat” at this year’s Women’s World Cup and made her predictions for this season’s Women’s Super League title race.

Smith, who began her senior career at Tranmere Rovers, won 93 caps for her country after making her England debut at the age of 17. Since hanging up her boots in 2016, she has cemented herself as one of the leading voices in the women’s game, turning her hand to punditry for the likes of Sky Sports and the BBC.

“I get so many people saying ‘you must be jealous’ or ‘you must wish you were born 10 years later’,” Smith told Mirror Football, reflecting on her playing career.

“Of course I’d have loved to have been playing now in packed out stadiums but at the same time I just have to reflect and say ‘you know what I had a brilliant career, I absolutely loved my time and overcoming those challenges’.

“Now seeing where the game is and people really interested in it and the standard getting better and better, I’m just so happy.”

Smith played for Doncaster Rovers Belles

The Lionesses’ heroics at last summer’s EUROs have sparked something of a revolution in women’s football, with huge crowds flocking to WSL grounds across the country. The London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea earlier this month attracted nearly 47,000 fans to the Emirates. But Smith believes this could be just the start for the women’s game, with England set to travel to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup in July in the hopes of adding another piece of silverware to their trophy cabinet.

“I think (the Lionesses) have got a great chance (of winning) at the World Cup,” Smith said. “It’s going to be hugely difficult now they are the team to beat so it’s another step they need to take.

“I actually did an interview with Sarina (Wiegman) before Christmas looking back at the EUROs but she didn’t really want to talk about it, she was so focused on the World Cup and what comes next and I love that drive that she has. I would have loved to have been managed by her because she would just get the best out of you as player.

“She’s got that stern side but she’s also got a side where you really like her and want to play for her. I think she’s got a really nice mix. She’s been brilliant and the players have been fantastic on and off the pitch.”

And with the Women’s Super League title race hotting up, Smith has had her say on who she thinks will be sitting at the top of the league table come May.

Smith made her England debut at the age of 17

“It’s so hard to predict,” she said. “At the start of the season I think I went with Arsenal. I looked at their squad and how they’d progressed under Jonas Eidevall but the injuries they’ve had – losing Miedema and Beth Mead – they’ve been so unfortunate.

“It’s so hard to look past Chelsea because they’ve got that depth in their squad and they’ve done it before. They have a winning mentality. And then you’ve got Manchester United doing all that they can to keep themselves in the title race.

“If you asked me now, I’d say Chelsea but next week I’ll probably say Arsenal and maybe the week after that United. But it’s great the league is more competitive than it’s ever been, and we now just want to invest in the other teams in the league to make it as competitive as we possibly can.”

While Smith is no longer plying her trade in the WSL, the 43-year-old will be lacing up her boots again this year to take part in the first Female Copa Del Cure Leukaemia; a six-a-side football tournament from which all proceeds are donated to Cure Leukaemia – a charity which battles to eradicate all forms of blood cancer.

Smith was the first female ex-pro to play in the Copa del Cure Leukaemia in October, lining up alongside the likes of former England midfielder Geoff Thomas and ex-West Ham striker Marlon Harewood. Tournaments such as these are part of Cure Leukaemia’s “FINISH IT!” campaign, which calls on football fans across the world to raise money to help launch a new UK-wide paediatric clinical trials programme that will deliver innovative treatments to children with blood cancer.

Smith thinks the Lionesses are one of the favourites at this year’s Women’s World Cup

“I went to the event last year which was a mixed event. It was predominantly men but there were a few females there, a lot of ex-pros. We all took part in a six/seven-aside competition which was great fun on the day but it was all for a fantastic cause.

“The football community often come together for things like this and I think this is another opportunity for the football community to get together and raise the profile of blood cancer so people are aware of it but also raise as much money as possible for treatment and research. As soon as I got asked to do that I wanted to be involved and then they spoke to me about doing an all-female event which is going to be this year which again is fantastic. “

She added: “I think everybody has been affected by cancer in some way. Everyone knows someone unfortunately who has died through cancer, including my first coach at a women’s team. Everyone has a story so that was my rationale for wanting to get involved.”

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