Ask any English sports fan for their memories of World Cup 2007, they'll no doubt be able to recall the kicking of Jonny Wilkinson, the inspirational leadership of Phil Vickery and the dancing feet of Jason Robinson.

A significantly smaller number will be able to talk about the performances of Kelly Smith, Faye White and Co.

In September the England women's football team travelled to China to compete in the World Cup. Despite being the second lowest-ranked team in the tournament, Hope Powell's side made it through to the quarter-finals with a series of impressive performances, including holding eventual winners Germany to a goalless draw.

Despite a lukewarm reaction in the written press, the BBC devoted more air time than ever before to the tournament and this, combined with England's prolonged stay in the Far East, generated a support among the public not seen before. Has it signalled a change in attitude towards women's football or merely proved that we will forever be in the shadow of the likes of Germany and the United States when it comes to supporting our women's team?

Veteran midfielder Sue Smith, who made her international debut in 1997, says she noticed a definite increase in coverage of England's Lionesses. "Often we play international games and no-one would even know the score," she said. "At least reports were printed in most papers and obviously being live on the BBC helped us a lot."

The fact that the BBC did screen all of England's games live was also appreciated by Birmingham-born Arsenal winger Karen Carney. "I was happy with what the BBC did," she said. "I think they are really supportive of the women's game and can't do enough to help us. The fact that our final game got moved to BBC One was fantastic."

Her comments are echoed by Chelsea goal-keeper Siobhan Chamberlain, who says the BBC's support helped raise awareness among the public. "I think it definitely has raised support, I think the viewing figures for the quarter-final were quite high, especially considering the rugby and cricket were both on at the same time."

Everton's Lindsay Johnson believes support for the England side was swelled by the tournament, saying: "A lot of people have been in touch saying how much they enjoyed the Women's World Cup, I think it has created positive awareness, maybe highlighting the challenges female footballers face compared to the men."

England were eventually defeated in the quarter-finals by the US, who are historically one of the best women's teams in the world. Although the gap between England and countries such as the US and Germany has been closed slightly, members of the Three Lions squad say they saw a noticeable difference in off-the-pitch activity while in China.

Johnson said: "What I observed of the Germans and Americans in particular was the professionalism of their staff and players.

"The Germans had a lot of press following them around the hotel. The US side really took the whole competition very seriously, in particular security issues.

"They had hotel floors swept with sniffer dogs and a significant police presence including a tanker outside the hotel."

As with England during the European Championships in 2005, as hosts, the Chinese received considerable backing.

Johnson says: "The China team got great coverage while we were out there, billboards where you would normally see Beckham and Rooney, they had their women football players. They were constantly on television, and the media really got behind the women's team, and it resulted in 70,000 sell-outs for their matches."

The major drawback for England is the lack of a professional domestic league. Despite this, Arsenal's women's team, made up of coaches, teachers and students, achieved a unique quadruple in the 2006-2007 season, winning all three domestic titles as well as becoming the first British club to win the Uefa Cup.

Anita Asante, part of the victorious Gunners squad, believes their achievements have not been fully recognised, saying: "Despite all our success as a club, I feel it has not made a significant impact on the national press.

"I attended an event regarding a new football initiative a while ago and not many people were even aware of the fact that we are the first English team to win the Uefa Cup and for me that speaks volumes.

"If a men's side had won a prestigious tournament, the level of coverage and awareness would be immense."

The achievement shows how much potential there is in the English game but, with the lack of a professional structure and a low-profile domestic game, will the national team ever be able to challenge the likes of Germany and the US for international honours?

Rachel Yankey played in North America before joining Fulham, England's first ever professional women's side, and says a fully professional league may not be the answer, as it might be to the detriment of young English players.

She said: "I think a professional league would certainly improve the women's game but I also think you would get a lot of players from other countries wanting to play in it.

"That isn't necessarily a bad idea but it might hinder the progression of some of the youngsters and the national team. If the game is to stay amateur or even semi-professional, there definitely needs to be more financial backing for the players and the clubs to keep the standard of football to a high level."

Asante believes the responsibility lies with the FA, saying: "Many of our players have jobs or college commitments alongside their dedication to the sport. There still seems to be high expectations of the team without any real justification for it!

"We are competing with nations that are organised like professionals. The FA should recognise how much better we could be if we received more support financially."

Despite the financial struggles of some members of the squad, Carney says that the national team is making progress. "I still feel there is a long way to go but we seem to moving in the right direction," she says. "There are plenty of people behind the scenes trying to help the game progress." ..SUPL: