"It was nothing special. It was safe handling and no-frills
goalkeeping." So ran England goalkeeper Rachel Brown's
unfussy assessment of her composed performance in keeping world
champions Germany at bay in Friday's goalless draw in Shanghai.
Brown's clean sheet - which featured a fine late save with her feet from a Kerstin Garefrekes shot that even team-mate Kelly Smith was convinced was goalbound - was notable for being the first by an opposition keeper against Germany in 12 FIFA Women's World Cup matches dating back to the 1995 Final.
Moreover, it was significant in answering a few questions about the standard of goalkeeping in the women's game. The goalkeeper's union had been placed firmly in the spotlight here at China 2007 by the 11 goals Germany put past Argentina's Vanina Correa in the Opening Match but Brown's efforts in frustrating the Germans in Shanghai went a long way to redressing the balance.
"(Women's goalkeeping) has taken a lot of criticism in the past and I am sure all goalkeepers concerned would admit there have been some glaring mistakes so far in the tournament," the Everton player told FIFA.com afterwards. "People jumped on to that straight away and now every error has been highlighted, some fairly, some unfairly. That's the nature of a goalkeeper whether you are female or male. (Against Germany) I think we were pretty solid as a defensive unit and I just played my part."
Just playing a part it may be, but the demands of this part are arguably tougher than for any outfield position in the women's game. The biggest challenge, Brown elaborated, is trying to defend a goal whose dimensions were designed for men. Brown's herself, for instance, appeared helpless to stop Japan's Aya Miyama last-minute equaliser in England's opening game, a free-kick struck right into the corner of her net.
"It's very different," she said. "The ten outfield players are playing against people of a similar stature. We are playing against the goalposts which are the standard size, the same as for the men. Normally female goalkeepers will be smaller than male goalkeepers and that's what makes life harder for us."
Although Korea DPR reserve keeper Yun Hyon-Hi stands 196cm tall, the average height of the 48 keepers involved in the tournament is 174cm and Nigeria's Tochukwu Oluehi measures just 150cm. When one considers those figures in comparison to the 191cm-tall Gianluigi Buffon, the leading custodian at the last men's FIFA World Cup™, it is understandable that Brown has focused on other ways to bridge the physical gap.
The England No1, who measures 173cm, said: "Obviously we
have to try and train to make sure we are powerful and we can
spring high but it's never going to change. We've got to
try and use our strength to nullify the problem that we have as we
don't want this game to be adapted just because of us."
The 27-year-old also cites the importance of proper mental preparation for a role where concentration is key. "I think goalkeeping is a lot about concentration, I would say every single goalkeeper in this tournament can come and collect a cross safely but we've seen it not happen in the tournament and that's because of nerves and a lack of concentration. I use a lot of psychology to prepare myself for games."
If nerves played a part in the nightmare evening of Argentina goalkeeper Correa, then her colleague Romina Ferro, who replaced her between the posts for the South Americans' match against Japan, believes there was another mitigating factor at play, namely a simple lack of experience - a factor still more relevant in the women's game than its male equivalent.
"You have to remember that the level in Argentina is different to here," she told FIFA.com. "Over there crosses tend to loop into the box, which gives you plenty of time. But here they really whip them in low and hard and you've got powerful strikers looking to get on the end of them. It's a different game altogether." Tellingly, four of Germany's goals followed crosses into the penalty area, two more from corners that Correa helped into the net.
If the Opening Match represented a school of hard knocks for the 24-year-old Correa, other more experienced keepers have suggested they are on course to take full honours here at China 2007. Twenty-four hours after Brown kept Birgit Prinz and Co at bay, Brazil's Andreia excelled in the first half of her team's 4-0 win over China PR, one notable stop denying Xiaoli Song with the game goalless. Indeed the Brazilian has now gone eight internationals without conceding a goal.
Brown, for one, is optimistic about the overall impression the goalkeeper's union will leave on the competition. "I am sure we will see a lot more positives than we will negatives during this tournament," she said. Her own contribution can only have helped.