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   June 20, 2002 | 1530 IST


Umit Davala
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English seek divine help vs Brazil

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Still smarting at Diego Maradona's infamous "Hand of God" goal against them for Argentina in 1986, England fans are now praying for divine intervention of the right sort against Brazil.

A Church of England vicar, Rev. Jeremy Fletcher, has written a special prayer beseeching God to annul the talent of Brazil's feared trio of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho for the World Cup quarter-final showdown on Friday.

"Arise, O Lord, and let not Brazil prevail over us. Put them in fear O Lord," the prayer starts. "Confound the might of Ronaldo and Rivaldo and put Ronaldinho to confusion."

The football-loving vicar, who works in the central English diocese of Southwell and supports northern English club Bradford City, was unabashed about seeking divine bias.

"O God, if nothing else, award us a dubiously offside goal in the last minute," the prayer adds.

If the match goes to penalties, Fletcher has a special litany or chanted prayer ready to help England goalkeeper David Seaman prevail. "O Seaman make speed to save us," it starts.

"May their goal be unto us like an aircraft hangar, And their keeper be as an ant."

Fletcher told Reuters the prayer was originally a joke for friends but then took on a life of its own.

"Somehow, it's got out everywhere. Of course it's entirely humorous, but if it gets people asking serious and complex questions like 'does prayer work?' or 'whose side is God on?', that has to be positive," he said.

Although intended in jest, Fletcher's prayers have a good track record -- his last footballing petition was for England captain David Beckham's foot to heal in time for the World Cup.


With football fever at an unprecedented level in England, fans were set to declare an unofficial "people's holiday" on Friday with some 10 million expected to watch the early morning game rather than go to work.

As well as the pro-England prayer, the soccer excitement was spilling over into other hallowed quarters.

One doctored photo doing the rounds on the Internet showed Britain's Queen Elizabeth wearing an England shirt with her face painted in the red-and-white flag of patron Saint George.

The Sun newspaper printed a picture of England defender Rio Ferdinand taking the place of the famous Christ statue looking over the spectacular bay of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Employers were bracing for massive losses on Friday, but hoping an England victory would quickly compensate.

"There's very real evidence that, after the 1966 World Cup success, productivity rose," said David Bishop, of the Federation of Small Businesses.

England beat Germany in 1966, and a re-match with the old rivals could be on the cards if Brazil are defeated and both make it to the final. England's last competitive game with Brazil was at the 1970 World Cup when the South Americans won 1-0.

While many Welsh and Irish fans were uniting behind their neighbours England for Friday's game, north of the border in Scotland it was a different story.

Traditionally resentful of English triumphs, most Scots were praying for a Brazil win. And in a sign that soccer is not always a laughing matter, one charity reported a doubling of incidents of bullying of English children living in Scotland.

Across England, fans were sporting flags on cars, houses and shop windows. Many were also styling their hair to copy Beckham's mohican, Seaman's pony-tail and, in at least one case, manager Sven-Goran Eriksson's receding hairline.

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