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Friday, July 1, 2011
England roars back in second half

By Joanne C. Gerstner

DRESDEN, Germany -- The emotional differences could be detected, more than 48 hours before England played New Zealand.

Both teams were staying in the same large hotel in Dresden, and had come back from their practices a mere 30 minutes apart. The English were quite serious, maintaining a professional quiet while filing through the hotel's atrium.

Team New Zealand came in the same entrance with a joyous roar, as players laughed and smiled, and a few even sang. The Football Ferns still exuded joy.

That contrast in attitude carried over to Friday's Group B game at Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion.

The English, who carried a heavy load of pressure to win the game, looked tight. The Ferns, who were trying to earn their first points in the World Cup, played with enthusiasm.

In the end, England's depth and skill overtook New Zealand in a 2-1 victory. But it took two second-half goals for England to win its first comeback game in the FIFA Women's World Cup.

"We're not England if we don't do things the hard way," joked defender Alex Scott, who was named player of the match. "We knew at the half we needed composure and England grit."

England coach Hope Powell added, "Really, we must give credit to New Zealand, they made the game very difficult. Then, we have to give ourselves credit, to our girls working extremely hard for three points. It was a tough game. The most important thing is getting three points -- thankfully we got them."

The English stand alone in second place in Group B with four points. Japan is in first, thanks to two wins and six points. England's next game is Tuesday against Japan in Augsburg.

Mexico is in third place, with one point, but still has an outside chance of finishing second if it comes down to goal differential with England. Mexico would need a lopsided win over New Zealand, plus a slim England win over Japan, to advance.

New Zealand, with two losses, has been eliminated from advancing.

The Football Ferns were clearly upset to have come so close to winning their first game in the World Cup. They performed their traditional haka, a Maori warrior dance, toward their enthusiastic fans at the end of the game.

"Hope you enjoyed it, it was a bit of a nail-biter," New Zealand coach John Herdman said. "It was a really solid performance from the girls. I'm really proud of them. They didn't leave a bit of Kiwi out on the pitch.

"We led one of the powerhouses in football for an hour. We nearly snuck one out there."

New Zealand's aggressiveness in the first half disrupted England's offensive schemes. Star Kelly Smith also sustained an ankle injury, which slowed her down for the rest of the game. She also was heavily marked, hampering her offensive effectiveness.

The game's first blow was struck unexpectedly by New Zealand, which took the lead at the 18-minute mark off a bang-bang play ended by forward Sarah Gregorius. The Ferns had been buzzing around the English goal, and Gregorius was able to slip through two defenders to score.

The New Zealand goal celebration was enthusiastic, with Gregorius running to the sideline to jump for joy with all 21 of her teammates. It was the first time New Zealand ever took a lead in the World Cup.

It took nearly 67 minutes of play before England began connecting. There had been several scoring chances and corner kicks, but nothing truly materialized.

The offense finally clicked off an Alex Scott curling shot into the box from near midfield. England's other Scott, Jill the midfielder, jumped, angled her head to the left, and put in a header to tie the game.

Jill Scott had foreseen the play at halftime, telling Alex Scott to send the ball into the box for her.

"She said, 'Get it into the box, Al, I'll go get it,'" Alex Scott said.

England made some adjustments in the second half, including moving its forwards up in the alignment. That seemed to disrupt New Zealand enough to allow for improved scoring chances.

Jill Scott played a key role in England's go-ahead goal, in the 81st minute. The English put on heavy pressure, with New Zealand keeper Jenny Bindon making a few saves.

But the ball stayed loose in the box, and forward Jess Clarke cleaned up the mess by driving the ball for a goal. Clarke had come into the game only 16 minutes earlier, and had fresh legs.

"This tournament hasn't seen the best of us yet," Jill Scott said.

Herdman said he was pleased to see his team was leaving Dresden disappointed, as that meant the players no longer are simply happy to be in the World Cup. His team was again wearing its emotions on its sleeves, clearly down heading to the team bus.

"The rest is history now. It's a great feeling to be leading the English … the powerhouse of football," Herdman, a native of Newcastle, England, said. "But a great feeling is not one we accept anymore, it's now about winning games. We couldn't do it this time."