Writer and sports pundit Eve Hartley decodes the Women’s World Cup match after England win 2-0 against Japan.
England have beaten Japan 2-0 in their latest World Cup match, ensuring they qualify top of Group D, leaving Japan in second place.
Last time the two teams met at the World Cup finals, it was heartbreak for England.
Japan, who were the defending champions back in 2015, triumphed in the semi-final when Lionesses defender Laura Bassett scored a heartbreaking own goal in stoppage time.
This year, England went into the game hot off the heels of their 1-0 win against Argentina, with a new manager, Phil Neville, and a fresh playing style. In their match against the South American side they dominated possession to catapult themselves into the last 16 of the competition with one match to spare.
While the stakes were lower for the already qualified Lionesses, Japan were ready to challenge England again and try to maintain their unbeaten run so far in the World Cup, but Neville’s side started the game with urgency, using the flanks to overpower the opposition’s defence, which was pinpointed as their strategy before the match.
The match: decoded
Within minutes the Lionesses powered forward, pressuring the opposition and chasing every loose ball. While from the start Daly showed off her flair as she sped up the right wing, constantly finding space as an option for the midfield and hitting dangerous, early crosses into the box.
After a confident opening few minutes, Japan began to find their footing and almost scored from a beautifully placed freekick. Yokoyama hit the woodwork with a curled effort after an incredible fingertip save from England goalkeeper Bardsley.
Not long after the miraculous save from the Lionesses keeper, England’s White powered home her second goal of the campaign. The 14th minute effort was scored after a lovely ball by youngster Stanway to White, who ran between the defenders and slotted the ball into the back of the net.
At half time England were 1-0 up and manager Neville said he was happy with the performance, but noted the goalkeeping performance of Japan’s Yamashita. Neville said he urged his players to be patient in defence and to keep counter-attacking at speed.
In the second half, Japan kept finding pockets of space in the final third, which led to some threatening chances, as well as some threatening set pieces.
At times in the final 45 minutes England were wasteful in possession, working hard to get the ball but then losing it with sloppy passes. They slowed the game down and made some errors which could have been fatal.
In the 76th minute Iwabuchi carved the Lionesses open after a great turn in the pocket between England’s midfield and defence, before laying off a perfect pass to Sugasawa who failed to beat Bardsley.
The game was put to rest after a poor second half showing from the England side, when substitute Carney slipped a neat pass to White, who finished tightly to score her second goal of the game.
The clash had the premise of being the ultimate test for England’s confidence moving forward, and many fans will now be more assured, after a wait to see how the Lionesses coped with a tougher fixtures.
Neville made eight changes to the team who won against Argentina, including introducing Toni Duggan and Demi Stokes who came back from injury to make their first starts in the competition. Youngster Georgia Stanway was a surprise addition to the starting line up, with Neville giving the 20-year-old forward a chance to prove herself on the highest level.
England’s back four in defence, Stokes, Bright, Houghton and Bronze made their first starting appearance as a unit under Neville.
Prior to the game Neville spoke to the Guardian about his tactical approach with the team, and said he wanted his defenders to pass out from the back, his midfielders to dominate and his forwards to be brave. One of the main things the Lionesses manager wanted to incorporate was being able to handle low-block teams, by practicing their possession into tight areas with three or four players around them.
The Lionesses knew they just needed a point to stay top of the group and play the third place of the of either group B/E/F on Sunday. But the win, although impressive, places them in the same category as front-runners France and potentially the United States.
Despite their qualification prior to the match the Lionesses refused to settle for a draw, and this result extends their unbeaten run in the competition. It’s now the first time the Lionesses have ever won their opening three World Cup matches.