|espnW.com: News & Opinion|
DRESDEN, Germany -- English striker Eniola Aluko knew the criticism would come, but she had no idea how strong of a negative tide was headed her way.
Aluko had several prime scoring chances in Monday's 1-all draw with Mexico in Wolfsburg, including one virtually point-blank, but wasn't able to score.
It was a result she desperately wanted to change, but her fate that day was to walk off the field as a frustrated athlete.
The criticism was swift. The English press slammed her for being ineffective, weak, unable to score in a high-pressure situation. Her Twitter (EniAlu) account received several harsh messages, with strangers hurling cyber-criticisms her way.
"the most shocking thing in the tournament was your miss second half, actually no wait...ur performance for 90 mins?!" -- tweet sent to EniAlu on June 27.
Aluko has been selectively responding to her anonymous critics on Twitter with defiant sarcasm, refusing to enter a shell of silence during the World Cup.
England stands tied with Mexico for second place in Group B. Japan leads the group, and New Zealand is in last place.
The English next play Friday, taking on New Zealand in Dresden. A win is nearly a must in order to move on to the next stage of the World Cup.
"Thanks everyone for the support!Negativity is boringggg-espesh from all u 'lovely' keyboard warriors!haha Nxt game v NZ on Friday. Lets go" -- EniAlu tweeted June 28.
Aluko, who is playing in her second World Cup, admits this trip is different, thanks to the immediacy of social media and more fans and media back home caring about England's performance.
"I understand the press, they say what they will say, and you have to accept that and move on, but all the horrible things these people, who I don't know, put on me after Monday was disgusting," Aluko said Wednesday, while recovering from a practice in the stifling 90-plus degree heat of Dresden. "We call them 'keyboard warriors.' Have they played in the World Cup?
"They can sit at home, on the couch and type away horrible things. Would they say these things to our faces, if they sat right here across from us in person? I bet not."
"u've just lost a fan either take criticism with grace & professionalism or ignore it. Why justify with petty remarks in response?" -- June 28 tweet sent to EniAlu.
"If u dont want to be a fan thats ur call, no lost sleep. if u do then great!! Game on friday against NZ, lets go!" -- June 29 response tweet from EniAlu.
It would be easier for Aluko to remain quiet or even shut down her Twitter account until after the World Cup. But that's not her nature. Her family, who immigrated from Lagos, Nigeria, to England when she was a toddler, taught her to express herself and be strong.
"My momma said that the bigger you get, the more haters that come," Aluko said. "And she is right. The haters can hate, I just don't know why you would want to be that way. I choose to be positive."
At 24, she's experienced enough to know what she wants, defend herself from anonymous attackers and understand the opportunities before her.
"This World Cup is already different from the first time, as I think there is more pressure on us to succeed," Aluko said. "We have high expectations; the public and press back home have high expectations of us, too. When we fall short, we disappoint people. The fans care and want us to win. We understand that. We disappointed ourselves Monday.
"But that is going to change. We feel ready for New Zealand and we want to show the football we are capable of playing."
Participating in the World Cup has been a well-thought-out choice for Aluko. She easily could have walked away from soccer and proceeded full-time with her burgeoning legal career. She wants to specialize in sports and entertainment law, perhaps becoming an agent.
She has passed the bar in England. She had hoped to be licensed in New York state, but two runs at the bar haven't worked out. Aluko is training with an English law firm but has put that on hold for the World Cup.
She has played in England and the U.S., currently with Sky Blue FC in the Women's Professional Soccer league.
"After days like Monday, I did ask myself, why am I doing this? I could be home, working, not facing all of this," Aluko said. "Then I remember the joy: the joy of scoring, the joy of winning games, playing in the World Cup, being in the stadiums filled with fans. It is the joy of being with your teammates and sharing a dream. That is why I am here -- there is nothing like that joy."
"Hi!Thanx a lot Nigel.Next game is Friday against NZ&I cant wait.Yes the wasteman comments have been ignored,Im staying positive" -- June 29 response tweet from EniAlu.