Women’s World Cup: England need to win the physical battle against holders Japan

By Andrew Gibney.

They say silence in golden, and on Saturday night, that is exactly what England’s Lionesses did to a packed BC Place Stadium in just 14 minutes. Goals from Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze in just three minutes stunned the vibrant home crowd and despite a late rally, Canada never really recovered.

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England’s 2-1 victory in Vancouver once again made history. Mark Sampson’s side through to their first-ever World Cup semi-final where they will take on the holders Japan for a place in Sunday’s final.

True to their own style of play, England didn’t dictate the play on Saturday, nor did they sit back and merely invite the Canadians onto them. It was another tactical masterstroke from Sampson, but the main reason behind the victory was that England took their chances.

Leading from the front, Taylor didn’t allow the home defence to enjoy time on the ball. Lauren Sesselmann cracked under the pressure and the Portland Thorns striker was confident and deadly, firing the ball into the far corner.

Moments later, Canada assigned 5 foot 3 inch Alyssa Chapman to mark the athletic 5 foot 7 inch frame of Bronze at the back post. Fara Williams’ free-kick was inch-perfect and Bronze powered past the full-back to head beyond Erin McLeod.

It was two avoidable Canadian mistakes, but England capitalised, and it was in the second half with a slender 2-1 lead that they showed their mental and physical toughness.

Rather than drop deep to avoid leaving gaps in behind, England defended from the front. Taylor put in a courageous shift up front on her own and continuously harried and chased the defenders. Behind her, Jill Scott, Karen Carney and Katie Chapman pressed the ball all along the back-line.

They moved in numbers and showed an incredible work rate and discipline to stop John Herdman’s side from being able to build from the back.

However, the next test is set to be even tougher, and England will need to find another level, both mentally and physically, if they have any chance in frustrating Japan in the same way that they did to Canada.

Norio Sasaki’s World Champions hold onto the ball like no other women’s team can. In the heat of Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium – kicking off at five o’clock local time – England could be chasing shadows for long periods of the game.

That requires a huge attention to detail from all 10 outfield players and you will need to draw all the strength you have to resist giving away cheap fouls, or falling back too deep. Invite Japanese pressure and England could be in for a long evening without seeing too much of the ball.

Physically, England are a bigger and stronger side. That will be key to how Sampson sets up his side. The Lionesses have to take advantage of any set-pieces they can create in the final third and also try not to give the ball away cheaply.

Japan have somewhat cruised to the semi-final stage. Against the Netherlands in the Round of 16, they showed glimpses of why they were so successful four years ago in Germany. England will have to hope they are not slowly building up to a spectacular finish this time round.

If the Nadeshiko can move up a couple of gears, England may struggle to compete. However, if Japan struggle to up their game in the sweltering heat – England need to take any opportunities that come their way. You have to believe there will be chances to score and it is up to the Lionesses to find that strength one more time – and book their place back in Vancouver for the final.

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