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England match rivals Jubilee in UK

LONDON, England -- England's World Cup opening match in Japan has eclipsed the nation's other big event this weekend -- Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee.

Football fans or not, the queen's subjects across the nation were glued to TV screens in pubs and their homes on Sunday to cheer their team on.

Although the Queen's Jubilee celebrations started well the day before, the UK was preoccupied with the World Cup on Sunday as they watched England draw with Sweden in their team's first challenge in Japan. (Match report)

The queen herself had chosen religion over soccer by missing the match and attending a service at St George's chapel Windsor. (Full story)

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In a move unthinkable in more God-fearing times when the queen took the throne in 1952, the Church of England gave its blessing for clergy to change service times to avoid a clash.

"Worship comes first of course, but this (the World Cup) comes round only every four years so we can afford to be flexible," said the Church's soccer-loving leader, Archbishop George Carey, who supports English league champions Arsenal.

Some clergy wrote special soccer-related hymns and prayers, while at least one hired a big screen for the vicarage lawn so parishioners do not have to choose between God and country.

The queen's soccer-loving teenage grandchildren, Princes William and Harry, were said to be disappointed at missing the big game, but happy to be joining their deeply religious grandmother on one of the most momentous weekends of her life.

Pubs opened early for business as fans across the country were tuning in to TVs and radios from 10.30am local time (09.30 GMT) to catch all the action from the opening match just outside Saitama City.

World Cup coverage 

The game was given added spice because England's manager Sven Goran Eriksson is a Swede.

In addition to the fans who have flown out to Japan for the World Cup finals, the England team received a boost from many Japanese who swung their support behind them.

It was clear that the appeal of David Beckham and Michael Owen had worked its magic on the World Cup joint hosts.

Hundreds of Japanese had begun gathering outside the team's hotel, the Urawa Royal Pines, in Saitama City, about six miles from the match venue the day before.

As the players returned from training at dusk last night, many of the 500 Japanese supporters, who were being held behind temporary ropes and carefully marshalled by scores of police, surged forward to scream and wave at the players.

Yoko Kanome, 33, who was accompanied by her sister Motoko, 29, said: "I would like to see Mr Beckham and Mr Owen. "I prefer Mr Owen -- I am his fan."

Asked why she liked Owen so much, she said: "He is good looking, I like his personality and he is a great player."

The sisters said that after Japan, England was their favourite team in the competition.

Ito Yoshinori, 41, a volunteer at the stadium, had seen the players earlier before heading home and taking his family to see the return of the coach.

"Beckham is a star around the world," he said. "Baseball is still more popular here than football, but I hope this World Cup will help to make football more popular than it is now."

England fans had flocked to the Saitama Stadium before the match, where the friendly atmosphere in the city of the last two nights continued on the way to the game, with fans laughing and joking together on the congested underground trains making the one-hour journey from the city centre to the ground.

The two sets of fans made a colourful sight, the English with their faces painted red and white, the Swedes with theirs yellow and blue.

If anything the Swedes were more outrageously turned out, some wearing Viking helmets or wigs, and singing more lustily than the English.

Many Japanese joined in the fun, wearing replica shirts and also joining in the face-painting.

Overcast weather changed to bright sunshine in the last couple of hours before the match.

Joel Davidson, 23, an investment banker from Ladbroke Grove, London, said: "You hear Saitama Stadium, and think, okay, but then you walk down this country road and there's this space age vision. I've never seen anything like it."




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