Sir Geoff Hurst admits he would never have expected the next England team to reach a World Cup final to be the Lionesses.
Phil Neville’s team face the United States in Tuesday’s semi-final in Lyon aiming to make their first World Cup final.
England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup and the European Championships under previous boss Mark Sampson.
No senior England side has made it to the World Cup final since Hurst scored a hat-trick to win the Jules Rimet trophy when the Three Lions beat West Germany 4-2 in 1966 – and the former striker conceded he thought the men would repeat the feat first.
“I would be quite shocked and quite surprised (if the women become the next England team to reach a World Cup final) because of two things,” he told PA.
“One, you would have expected the men to have done it again and, two, you would not have expected it because of the disappointing view of women’s football 20 years ago.
“To see the progression today is fantastic but you would have been surprised on both counts.
“It would be a major step forward. If men or women are successful in any sport it maintains a lot of interest and we’ll see a major step forward in interest if we are successful in winning it.
“Even people who are not necessarily interested in women’s football, it’s a national event and if we’re successful they will start to be interested and look at women’s football.”
England beat Norway 3-0 in their quarter-final on Thursday and the winners in
Lyon will face European champions Holland or Sweden in Sunday’s final.
Neville has said they will have failed if they miss out on a place in the final and Hurst agreed.
“It’s not harsh at all, it’s the mentality you need. You get that far and there’s nothing worse than losing a semi-final or a final,” said the 77-year-old, who scored 24 goals in 49 England games.
“It’s the biggest test for them against the US but you can’t shrug your shoulders and say ‘never mind, we’ll do it again next year’.
“The players have to be aware it’s that important. The management style of any leader, it’s so important in the success of the team.”
:: Sir Geoff was in Earls Barton to surprise one of the 2019 McDonald’s & FA Grassroots Awards winners across the UK. McDonald’s is committed to celebrating the dedication of grassroots heroes around the country. Find out more: mcdonalds.co.uk/football