They may not command quite the audience of their male peers but England will certainly have their following when they kick off in the Fifa Women's World Cup today.

England meet Japan at 1pm in the tournament after qualifying for the first time in 12 years, although they have been placed in a tough group for the competition in China.

England, who have been training in Macau for the last fortnight to acclimatise and prepare for the biggest tournament of their lives, are also drawn against Germany and Argentina in Group A for the opening rounds of the tournament with all of their games being screened live on BBC Two.

Germany kicked off the tournament yesterday with an emphatic 11-0 victory over Argentina to set the standard for the competition. And with two home-grown players in the England squad, there is more than enough reason for Midland audiences to tune in to see what the women have to offer after their qualification with a win over Holland and a draw with France.

Birmingham-born Karen Carney, aged 20, from Solihull, is expected to start in midfield while experienced defender Rachel Unitt will hope to continue the form she showed in the European Championships in 2005.

Carney used to play for Birmingham City Ladies before the team folded - despite the meteoric rise of the game for girls there are still problems for Premier League sides to attract the same sponsorship or anywhere near the wages that the men can secure - and now represents one of the country's top sides, Arsenal.

Unitt, meanwhile, from Walsall, started her career with Wolves Women where her dad is assistant manager and now plays for Everton.

Carney is a relative newcomer with 28 caps while Unitt has notched up 63.

Carney was just 18 when she became the youngest woman to play for England team for more than six years and, now 20, said she recently that she hoped the Women's Football World Cup would finally prove the sport was definitely no longer a man's game.

Carney, who was voted the Nationwide Young Player of the Year in 2005, hopes the competition will be a major boost for the future of women's football, particularly if England are successful.

She said: "I am excited about the competition and I think we have a pretty good chance. We've got a good team at the moment and we are optimistic. We have Japan in our first match and they're a good team and Germany and Sweden are obviously going to be big opponents too.

"The great thing is women's football keeps getting bigger and bigger which is fantastic. It just needs to keep going really. We need more support at the higher level so the younger girls can follow through and go all the way to the top. But it is getting easier and hopefully it will continue to get bigger and better."

Carney, who first got into the sport when she joined the boys at school, added: "The media need to help promote the game and make it bigger so that younger girls have women role models to look up to and try and aspire to instead of just male footballers.

"Hopefully that is where this competition will help. We need to make the game bigger and give it the respect that it deserves. "

A recent survey in 2006 found some 26 million women and girls now play football across the world with 250,000 women and 1.1 million girls playing in the UK alone.

The FA says some 147,000 females play in competitive leagues and competitions in Britain, compared to just 10,400 in 1993 making it the UK's fastest growing sport.