Monday 01 April 2019, 09:53

When Smith and Miyama sparked a thriller

  • Remembering a classic Women’s World Cup encounter from 2007

  • Kelly Smith and Aya Miyama starred in England’s 2-2 draw with Japan

  • The two nations are set to meet once again at France 2019

For everyone who's looking forward to the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, Wednesday 19 June is a date worth saving. It is then that one of France 2019’s most intriguing fixtures will unfold, as Japan – champions in 2011, finalists in 2015 – take on England, the form team in women’s football.

The meeting of two potential title contenders in the group stage would be cause for excitement regardless of the teams involved. But these familiar foes also have a proven and consistent record of providing drama and excitement on the biggest stage. Think back to the 2015 semi-finals, and Laura Bassett’s heartbreaking own-goal decider, or to Germany 2011, when England were the only team to beat Japan on their march to glory.

But perhaps the most thrilling meeting of all was played out in Shanghai in the group stage of China 2007. It ended in a 2-2 draw, with England scoring twice in the final ten minutes only to see victory snatched from their grasp five minutes into stoppage time. The game also became something of a personal duel between two of the era’s great players.

Until the very last, Kelly Smith looked set to grab all the headlines. The England star had been identified as a potential player of the tournament by Chinese icon Sun Wen, and she lived up to her billing with a brilliantly taken brace. Indeed, Smith’s famous boot-kissing reaction would become the game’s defining image.

Kelly Smith of England celebrates scoring the first goal for England against Japan

Coach Hope Powell wasn’t a fan of that celebration, branding it “disrespectful”, while goalkeeper Rachel Brown laughed it off as "a clever marketing stunt". But both acknowledged Smith’s brilliance, with Brown saying: “Kelly’s got magic in her feet. She’s someone very special who can do things against the very top players in the world.”

Unfortunately for Smith, Japan had a player to whom the same compliment could be paid. The England heroine had admitted that, as fulltime neared, “I could feel myself smiling inside, feeling that we had won our first game”.

But she had perhaps forgotten about the set-piece mastery of Aya Miyama. The Japan midfielder had earlier broken the deadlock with a direct free-kick and, with the final seconds ticking down, she repeated that feat with an even better strike to break English hearts.

It was, as Japan coach Hiroshi Ohashi said later, “such an incredible goal”. And it represented a first for the three-time AFC Women’s Player of the Year. “It's the first time I've scored two free-kicks in one match and I'm delighted that I was able to earn us a draw,” said Miyama. “I felt a lot of responsibility when I stepped up to take that last kick.”

It was a responsibility that she, like the others on the field that night – and Smith in particular – fully embraced.

Did you know? This Shanghai thriller was watched by a crowd of 27,146 at the Hongkou Football Stadium, and one of those lucky fans bestowed their match ticket to the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.