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Friday, July 1, 2011
England, Jill Scott ready for big step

By Joanne C. Gerstner

AUGSBURG, Germany -- When things get stressful during the FIFA Women's World Cup, or when doubts creep into English midfielder Jill Scott's head, she knows comfort is never far away.

All she has to do is look down at her right wrist, to the tattoo that delicately encircles it like a literary bracelet.

"Step by step, day by day, mile by mile," reads her tattoo, written in calligraphy, in black ink on her pale skin.

She takes comfort in the words from the 1996 Whitney Houston song "Step by Step," knowing everything is a journey, taken one step, one pass or one game at a time. She acquired the tattoo in 2007, during the European Championships, to remind her of what really matters.

Scott has emerged as one of England's more potent offensive players, thanks to her goal and an assist to help defeat New Zealand 2-1 on Friday in Dresden. Team England will need Scott, who stands 5-foot-11, to impose herself again versus group-leading Japan on Tuesday in Augsburg.

"We certainly know we haven't played nearly as well as we can, that's probably obvious to everybody," said the 24-year-old Scott. "But I think we showed in the second half against New Zealand what we are capable of and what people should expect from us. That is what we expect from ourselves. We see the opportunities we have, and we want to put on the type of performance that we are best capable of. You never want to peak too soon, but now is definitely the time to start picking up play. We know that."

Scott's team stands a good chance of advancing out of Group B. A win over Japan would take Group B and set up a quarterfinal date with either Germany or France in Leverkusen. A loss or tie with Japan brings a second-place finish, and again, a quarterfinal date with either Germany or France, in Wolfsburg.

Scott's skill and height could play a big role against Japan, one of the shorter teams (averaging 5-foot-4) in the World Cup. The English may look to Scott's skill in the air, putting the ball up for her to head into the goal.

"I do think you've got to use everything you've got, so yes, if I can use my height, I will," said Scott, the second-tallest English player behind 6-foot goalie Karen Bardsley. "But the Japanese are expert in ball control. It certainly won't be easy against them."

Scott, who is in her second World Cup, said this experience feels different from the 2007 event in China. Being closer to home in Europe and having family present for games brings comfort.

But the level of pressure and attention on England also has been ratcheted up by being in Europe, something Scott has noticed. This is just the start of a year of increasing pressure, as the 2012 London Summer Olympics will loom very large for the English team.

"People look at us now and expect us to win, which is rather good, as that it means we are earning their respect as a team that plays good football," Scott said. "This is an exciting time, to have the World Cup, and then the Olympics in London; this is a time where we can develop our own fans. We're not trying to compete with men's football, they have the traditions, the fans, everything. We want to make our own space, where people can appreciate the women's game and what we do."

The English have been able to breathe a small sigh of relief over the past few days, as their second-half rally against New Zealand released some of the mounting anxiety over their World Cup performance.

Coach Hope Powell wants her team to remain relaxed, especially against a very technically skilled and precise Japanese side.

"I think everybody's spirits have been lifted," Powell said after Sunday's practice. "After the game, we were relieved, we won. We still haven't found our groove yet, but we're much better."

Scott admits she's filled with nervous energy, trying to find ways to relax and get her rest. Taking walks in the beautiful park outside her hotel in Augsburg -- plus fitting in some afternoon naps -- seems to do the trick.

"I don't do well with sitting around, I have to be moving and doing something," Scott said. "I am trying to get out a little and see the towns, do something. I really want to be in the moment and take all of this in, enjoy it, get the most out of it. This is a special thing to be in the World Cup, and I want to treat it that way. We've come in with our goals, and we have an opportunity to accomplish them."