How tinkering won it for the Lionesses: 5 things we learned from England’s 2-0 victory over Japan
England clearly wanted to win
He may have copied Gareth Southgate's waistcoat look but when it comes to approaching a final World Cup group game, Phil Neville does things differently.
Whereas the England men appeared quite happy to let Belgium take the three points in a similar stakes game at Russia 2018, the England women treated tonight's match against Japan like a final. Indeed, Neville had clearly stated beforehand that he wanted the Three Lionesses to build on their momentum with a victory, despite the possibility of a defeat providing an easier route through the knockout stages. And with two-time scorer Ellen White now aiming for the Golden Boot and a result which may go some way towards avenging the heartbreak of 2015, England should now be able to face any side with the utmost confidence.
A change will do you good
Neville maintained that although England's qualification was already assured, he would still send out his best team. Cue much scepticism when no less than eight changes were made from the side that narrowly defeated Argentina.
But the shake-up initially proved to be a masterstroke. England looked fresher than they had done all tournament in the first half, with Georgia Stanway and Rachel Daly in particular determined to prove they're worthy of keeping their place in the second round. England's starting line-up has now witnessed 12 changes since the opener against Scotland.
It's a testament to the squad's strength in depth that in all three games their superiority has often shone through.
Who needs smaller goals?
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With USA racking up a cricket score against Thailand and Jamaica shipping nine goals in two games, the standard of women's goalkeeping is now once again being called into question. But both England's Karen Bardsley and Japan's Ayaka Yamashita may well have briefly silenced such talk with the kind of self-assured displays that any of their male counterparts would be proud of.
Bardsley made a stunning 10th minute save to prevent Yokoyama's 35-yard free kick crashing into the top left hand corner and later denied sub Yuika Sugasawa a consolation goal by sticking out her foot. Yamashita had to be on her best to keep out Georgia Stanway and Rachel Daly's impressive long-range efforts, as well as a volleyed effort from an otherwise ineffective Toni Duggan.
Japan are still a force to be reckoned with
Japan flattered to deceive against an Argentina side that were regarded by many as Group D's or whipping girls and had to rely on some dodgy VAR calls to pick up a much-needed three points against Scotland.
But there were signs against England that Asako Takakura's side are slowly but surely coming into form when it matters. They were by far the better team in the second half as Sugasawa ran rings around the Lionesses’ increasingly sluggish back four and had they been more potent in front of goal, could have won both the game and group comfortably. Expect the 2015 runners-up to be there or thereabouts once again.
Is Steph Houghton the new Bobby Moore?
Jill Scott equalled Peter Shilton’s record of 17 England World Cup games when she lined up tonight alongside Stanway and Keira Walsh in the England midfield.
But it was another legendary figure from the men’s game that had everyone drawing comparisons with when Steph Houghton produced a vital last-ditch tackle midway through the second half. Indeed, Bobby Moore’s iconic challenge on Jairzinho came to mind when the Manchester City captain denied Sugasawa a certain equaliser with an immaculately-timed outstretched leg.