England vs Japan – five things we learned

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England secured a 2-0 win over Japan on Wednesday night in their final group-stage match at the Women’s World Cup. Megan Cotter looks at the game’s key talking points…

9/9 points for England

England sail through to the last 16 after finishing top of Group D, winning all three of their group matches. They beat 2011 World Cup winners Japan, who are also into the last 16, 2-0 in their final group game. Japan will play the winners of Group E – Netherlands or Canada on Tuesday in Rennes.

Ellen White scored two perfectly placed goals against Japan making that three goals for her in the tournament so far. Phil Neville’s side should have an easier game on Sunday at Valenciennes, where they’ll play a best third-place team which could be one of New Zealand, China, Chile, Cameroon or Thailand. Neville is aware that England will need to step up their performance if they want to take on the possible challenge of Netherlands or Canada if they make it through to the quarter-finals.

Lionesses, let’s get in formation

England’s back four played together for the first time under Phil Neville’s lead (Bronze, Houghton, Bright and Stokes) as they played a 4-3-3 formation against Japan. Neville had made eight changes with his line-up including starting Toni Duggan, who made her first appearance of the tournament.

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Neville said “I’m going to play my best team. I want to finish top and win the game,” – he didn’t want to rest any key players and risk anything even though England had secured their position in the final 16. The Lionesses wanted to keep a successful winning streak rather than consider who they could avoid playing if they tried to finish second.

Japan took a 4-4-2 formation and got the game going by using their triangle passing and precision. England know they can’t afford to chase the ball against Japan so they needed to keep their shape. Japan managed to get just four shots on target as captain, Steph Houghton made an excellent tackle in the second half, saving England from another potential shot. Houghton really knows how to read danger and keep calm when in a 1v1 situation – a very intelligent player.

Phil Neville’s management on and off the field

Being a family of several sports personalities must have its benefits. Phil Neville’s management of the Lionesses has been highly noted – maybe having the England’s netball manager as a sister has something to do with it?

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You can see the bond Neville has created with the players and it’s definitely something special. Toni Duggan said he’s given the squad gifts throughout the tournament such as family photographs, tournament necklaces and even gave the squad time to celebrate Father’s Day how they pleased. Duggan also made us laugh about how she used to dislike Phil Neville – ‘Oh, I hate him. He played for Manchester United. But now he’s a coach, he’s so nice with you’.

Neville’s coaching has made an impact on this year’s tournament for sure – the team look tighter and stronger than ever.

It’s a goalkeeper’s tournament

Christiane Endler, Karen Bardsley and Vanina Correa have been phenomenal this tournament. Endler’s saves against the US gave Chile another chance and they kept the score down to 3-0 when it could have been an easy 8-0 to the Unites States. She’s put in an excellent performance so far.

Last night, England ‘keeper, Karen Bardsley stopped an early long free- kick from Japan that was very nicely struck into the top left-hand corner by Kumi Yokoyama where Bardsley managed to get a hand on it and tapped it off for a corner.

Recently, there have been a few comments about whether the goals in women’s football should be made smaller and scaled to the average size of a women instead of the average size of men in order to improve the game. I believe the performance over the last few weeks should have shut these ideas down. Hope Solo tweeted “I had no problem covering my goal and neither for many goalkeepers playing in the World Cup right now!”.

Japan stay upbeat after 2-0 loss

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Luckily for Japan this wasn’t a knockout game and the scoreline didn’t determine who was being sent home. On paper, Japan are one of the favourites to win the World Cup this year after their past successes.

In the second half, Japan took advantage of England’s tiredness and made use of their speed along the wings, creating more chances but couldn’t find the back of the net. England’s back four made it difficult for the likes of Yuika Sugasawa to make shots and Bardsley pulled out some excellent saves.

Manager Takakura says “We conceded a goal in the first half because of an error, and then we backed off a little because of that. But in the second half, we did manage to gain our composure but unfortunately we couldn’t score”.

 Follow Megan on Twitter at @megcotterx

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