Whenever England's Jessica Clarke gets the ball at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup 2008, a buzz goes around the crowd. The ball seems glued to her boots as she sets off on lightning dribbles, seemingly able to unleash any number of tricks and flicks while still managing to bring her team-mates into play. The 19-year-old winger is the kind of player who can change a match with a moment of pure inspiration, and she has been a big part of England's success so far in Chile.
"Even as a little girl I loved playing football. Since I wasn't very big, I had to rely on my speed and technique. I love having the ball at my feet," the 1.63m (5'4") Leeds Carnegie LFC player told FIFA.com. "Before I used to play against boys a lot, and they were all really good on the ball. I had to keep up, so I learned from them."
'A very emotional experience'
She now finds herself in a position that those lads back in the day could only have dreamt of - in the last eight of a FIFA competition rubbing shoulders with the best players of her generation. Up until the 94th minute of their last group match, however, it looked as if England would be making the long trip home empty-handed. Then up popped Toni Duggan and hammered home a piledriver from the edge of the box to grab a 1-1 draw against New Zealand and secure qualification. "We fought so hard and the goal in the end was thoroughly deserved. It was a very emotional experience. To tell you the truth, I was in tears at the end when I realised that we were through to the quarter-finals of a World Cup," Clarke said.
England will definitely have to raise their game if they are to make further progress in the tournament, as they will be facing 2002 champions the USA on Sunday in Chillan. "They are a tough team to play since they are incredibly strong physically," said Jess, as she is known in the camp. "But you wouldn't believe how much we're looking forward to the match. It's a new experience for us, but we know exactly what it represents."
Respect not fear
Clarke and her team-mates will not be content with merely gaining some valuable experience against the tournament co-favourites. "We came to Chile with real ambitions and our work is by no means finished here," said the junior wizard of the dribble, before outlining how they intend to match their intimidating opponents. "We play together really well as a team and we know that success on the pitch will be down to all 11 players and not just individuals. We all fight for one another out there, and our team spirit is our greatest strength."
"The fans here in Chile also help to motivate us," the England No11 continued. "They're fantastic, they're so emotional, and that gives us an extra boost. I really believe that we can go on to win the title, but if we start looking ahead to the final then things are guaranteed to go wrong."
Clarke and her fellow squad members are determined to take things one match at a time and, should any of them start getting ahead of themselves, then there is also Mo Marley to bring them back into line. "Our coach always makes sure that we keep our feet on the ground," grinned Clarke. "She's very good at that!"