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Claire Rafferty will be joining up with the full England squad for the first time next week and is hoping to take the opportunity to impress ahead of the World Cup qualifying double header against Austria and Spain.
The 21-year-old Chelsea full back has been rewarded for good performances with club and the England under-23 side and she told Women's Soccer Scene: "I am lucky to be picked and be involved, but really privileged to be asked.
"I am really excited and can't wait to go and see what it's about, and I want to take the opportunity if it comes. Hopefully we will do well and win both games.
"It was quite unexpected - I wasn't involved in the Cyprus Cup and went with the Under-23s to La Manga instead. It was a good training camp and a good tournament there and we did well, despite a virus spreading through the camp which affected eight of the squad."
The call up is extra special for Claire as both England games will be played in London. "The second game against Spain is going to be played at Millwall, where I began my career," she said. "I've still got a soft spot for Millwall so it would be great if I could be involved there."
Claire is not the only uncapped player to be named in the squad as her former Chelsea team mate Ellen White has also been included. "I am so pleased for Ellen as she is my room mate when I am away with England," she enthused. "She has been in great form for Leeds and deserves to be in the squad."
Another Chelsea player, Dunia Susi, made the breakthrough into the England side in Cyprus recently and Claire is hoping to draw inspiration from her achievements. "Dunia has been doing really well," she said. "She deserves it as she is a very good player. She has worked really hard for it and come through from the Under-23s, so hopefully I can follow in her footsteps."
The early part of Claire's career was disrupted by a knee injury but she has been a regular member of the England youth squads since making her debut at Under-17 level. She was in the Under-19 squad as they finished runners-up in the UEFA Championships and came to prominence in the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in 2008 with a string of good performances at left back.
"The experience I gained with the Under-20s was priceless for me and I can call on that," she recalled. "The majority of the senior players have that sort of experience from playing in major tournaments and hopefully that can help me, even if I am on the bench. But I know I have got a lot to learn and it is good that I know a few of the players in the squad from Chelsea and Loughborough."
The England call up marks the start of an important couple of weeks for Claire as, following the two internationals, she will be involved with Chelsea in their F.A.Women's Cup semi final against Arsenal. The Blues have been beaten in three semi finals in two seasons and are aiming to go one better this time. "Hopefully it's our turn now," says Claire. "We lost to Sunderland in the semi finals last year and it was a bad day.
"We shall be the underdogs against Arsenal and I prefer it that way as there is no pressure on us. It should be an interesting game - Arsenal are still very strong but we are in with a good chance. We led them 2-0 in the league earlier this season before they came back and won so with that, combined with the Sunderland game, we have a couple of points to prove.
"We had a good win against Blackburn last week and that has hopefully put us back on course in the league. We were doing well at the start but lost a bit of form - it has been hard to get consistency with the weather having been so bad. The league is not out of reach, obviously it is a tall order but we have to keep going and win all of our games. Don't write us off!
"We have lost the likes of Lianne Sanderson, Eni Aluko and Anita Asante to America over the past 12 months and we are playing a different type of football now. Ann Marie Heatherson and Cherelle Albert joined us recently and have settled in well, and the likes of Rebecca Jane and other talented youngsters are starting to push through. We have got a lot more depth in our squad this year and things are looking very positive for us."
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