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Wednesday, 12 September 2007

September 11th ...

Tuesday 11th September, 2007: Japan 2 (Miyama 2), England 2 (Smith 2)

A young kid, blond - 7? 8? 9? 10? - shapes to take a corner. He's wearing this season's home kit, redcurrant and white hooped socks, redcurrant shorts and the sleeves of his spanking new white shirt combine with the plain red bib he has been given to form a makeshift, old-style Arsenal home shirt. The crowded box awaits his delivery, but instead of hoofing it in he plays it short and square to his team mate, gratefully receives the return pass and jinks past one, two defenders before one of the dads nicks the ball off his foot for another corner just as he'd been about to shoot. This time he puts the ball straight into the mixer, a perfect cross that's dying out to be volleyed into the corner of the miniature goals they've set up. But the young recipient of this golden opportunity realises too late the chance of glory he has been presented on a plate. Before he can react, the moment has gone. The ball connects dully with his instep, gets stuck under his stationary, clodhopping foot, time is slow no longer and the play descends once more into a frantic, meaningless scrum.

There's always a game going on somewhere, always someone between the sticks. There's always someone watching. Someone recording the particulars.

Smith's reference: "... how dearly I would love to kick with the fray"...

There's a game in Shanghai too; Japan versus England in the FIFA Women's World Cup. Watching the match, you could be forgiven for wondering if British scientists have somehow succeeded in keeping quiet about the most astonishing discovery of the newborn century. Without any hue whatsoever and with a similar absence of cry, the FA boffins have managed to jigger about with all those X/Y chromosomes in such a way as to eradicate all of those traditionally recognised differences of gender and sex. Bar a few more pony tails than you'd normally expect to see post-David Seaman, and a greater ability to find similarly shirted colleagues with their passes, the pride of English lionesses so resembles their male three lion shirted counterparts that you wonder how the FA have managed to pull it off without setting off all manner of drug scandals, not to mention getting Trinny and Susannah involved.

Obviously, this similarity has its cons as well as its pros. The England ladies play with admirable verve and vigour, passing firmly and crisply among themselves creating the more promising openings as well as giving it plenty of stick and putting it about a bit whenever necessary, and to generally good effect. Easily the classier of the two sides, it's just a matter of time, you think to yourself, before all the patient passing and steady pressure leads to a goal. And sure enough, eventually it does. Japan's handful of a number 9, Arakawa (Moira Stewart on a *very*, *very* bad hair day) is on the receiving end of a bit of stick, the result of a degree of putting it about a bit too much by the England defence. The American Referee, Kari Seitz (Sigourney Weaver playing a lesbian refereee) blows for a foul. Up steps Miyama to blast the ball through the wall and score. One-nil to Japan. England coach Hope Powell (Don Letts) looks on aghast, presumably reminded by England's dismal wall of all that rapping she used to do with Big Audio Dynamite, wondering like the rest of us why she didn't just stick to making documentaries about the early days of the Clash.

Stewart: ", and in football, England's Women were cruelly denied a deserved victory in their first match of the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup when I was pulled down on the edge of the penalty area for a last minute free kick from which Japan scored a last gasp equaliser..."

But this is no ordinary England ladies side. They are, to all intents and purposes, the Arsenal ladies side who went undefeated in four competitions last season - at least seven of their number are. With that Magnificent Seven in their midst, these ladies don't know how to lose. And so with patience and increasing power and pace, they somehow turn the game around. Or rather, girl gooner Kelly Smith does. The player the BBC have been describing as the best player in the Women's game looks to have fallen understandably short of such portentous billing until, within the space of two minutes as the game looks just to have slipped beyond England, she produces two moments of individual brilliance that make you think she might just be the best player in the game, period. For the first she shimmers just inside the box, somehow keeping the ball within her body's sphere of influence, remaining calm enough in the gyroscope of disorder she's generated in the Japanese defence to slot the ball home with steely grace. Her scoring boot is off and at her lips in celebration almost before the ball has hit the net.

Then, with the game still reeling from her grabbing of it by the scruff of the neck, she's powering into the box from the left. Closing in on the Japanese goal from a tight angle, time once again stands still for her as, directing her first shot straight at the keeper, she's still composed and alert enough to steer the parried rebound home. Both boots are off this time as the England team surround her in grateful celebration. All that's required to make these Arsenal and England ladies total replicants of their male models is the completely unwarranted equaliser against the run of play. This duly arrives in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Miyama showing us all the full repertoire of her free kick heartbreakers, this time placing the ball over the England wall inside the right hand post of Rachel Brown's goal. It's the last kick of the game and you don't know whether to laugh or cry. You're laughing because you know its a classic game that's not over until the very last second; you want to cry because you hadn't been enjoying watching England play so much for as long as you can remember.

L.U.V. on y'all,


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