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England 2 (Smith 81,83) Japan 2 (Miyama 55,90)
A last gasp free kick denied England victory in their opening World Cup match when star striker Kelly Smith seemed to have given them the perfect start.
In truth, it was a game that England should have won comfortably as they squandered a series of chances before the brilliance of Smith looked to have settled matters in their favour, before a harsh decision led to a cruel ending.
Hope Powell gave Casey Stoney the nod for the left back position whilst Faye White returned to the centre of defence, in place of the injured Anita Asante.
England forced a corner in the opening minute but it was Japan who created the first opportunity, Arakawa stabbing a shot just wide after exchanging passes.
The first glimpse of Kelly Smith in a threatening position came just before the quarter hour as she received the ball from a throw in and turned into the area but her left foot shot was narrowly off target.
Aya Miyama chipped a shot over the bar after finding space on the edge of the area but England, after having looked nervous in the opening stages, began to settle down and won a number of corners, whilst Katie Chapman fired a shot wide at the second attempt.
England were presented with a glorious chance in the 38th minute as Miho Fukumoto raced off her line to clear and was beaten to the ball by Eniola Aluko, but the England striker hurriedly sent her shot past the post.
England made a very bright start to the second half and created another good chance as Karen Carney played an excellent ball into the path of Fara Williams but Fukumoto pulled off a fine save to deny the England midfielder. Smith then broke down the left and cut the ball back for Chapman whose goalbound shot was charged down as England stepped up the pressure.
However after England's good start, disaster struck in the 55th minute as Chapman was penalised for a foul on Homare Sawa on the edge of the area. The Japanese repeated their earlier, unusual, tactic of players kneeling down in front of the wall but Aya Miyama's swerving shot deceived Rachel Brown in the England goal and found the net to give Japan the lead.
England almost hit back immediately as Smith controlled and turned in the area but her shot was blocked by Kozue Anzo. Fukumoto denied Carney as she was sent through by Alex Scott and Smith hit the side netting with a powerful 20-yard strike.
The frustration continued as Scott played a delightful low ball across goal but no England was player was there to tap the ball home, Aluko's angled shot cannoned off Anzo but looped over the bar.
Brown was forced to save a snap shot from Shinobu Ohno but another chance went begging at the other end; Carney's left foot cross was latched onto by Yankey but she directed her header wide.
Williams was just off target following some good hold up play by Smith but, with ten minutes left, England finally got the breakthrough. Carney found Smith in the area where she turned, for once the ball broke kindly for her and she steered a left foot shot past Fukumoto for the equaliser.
Barely a minute had passed when Smith again burst into the area, her initial shot was parried by Fukumoto but Smith fired home the rebound and the game had been turned on its head in a matter of minutes.
There was a worrying moment as Brown needed treatment after bravely saving from Arakawa. After getting up again, she threw the ball straight to Yuki Nagasato but Lindsay Johnson did well to cover as the striker bore down on goal. However heartbreak was to happen in the fourth minute of the three added on, following a poor refereeing decision.
Mary Phillip was harshly penalised for an innocuous looking challenge on Arakawa and Miyama stepped up again to plant an unstoppable shot into the corner of the net. The final whistle blew immediately and joy had turned into frustration.
England: Rachel Brown, Alex Scott (sub Lindsay Johnson 88mins), Casey Stoney, Katie Chapman, Faye White, Mary Phillip, Karen Carney, Fara Williams, Eniola Aluko, Kelly Smith (sub Jill Scott 73mins), Rachel Yankey.
Japan: Miho Fukumoto, Hiromi Isozaki (sub Yuki Nagasato 84mins), Yukari Kinga (sub Kozue Anzo 45mins), Azusa Iwashimuzu, Aya Miyama, Shinobu Ohno, Tomomi Miyamoto (sub Ayumi Hara 70mins), Tomoe Sakai, Eriko Arakawa, Homare Sawa, Rumi Utsugi.
Photo: Kelly Smith scores England's first goal (www.jamesprickett.co.uk)
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