England 2 – 0 Japan Japan

Tuesday, July 5th 2011, 18.15 CET

This match, although damaging for my betting bankroll and more importantly, to my reputation, has been probably the best match I’ve seen during this Women’s World Cup! I haven’t seen much of the New Zealand vs. Mexico one, but it couldn’t have been better than what these two teams played! For those of you who still haven’t seen it, it finished 2 – 0 (obviously), with England scoring in the 15th and 66th minute.

Two things went wrong with my prediction, but these definitely added some spice to the game! As you may recall from this post, I expected England to have a struggling midfield, and Japan to be quick on the rebound once they were at disadvantage. None of these were accurate yesterday. Surprisingly, coach Hope Powell made some unexpected changes, sitting captain Faye White and playmaker Fara Williams. Instead of the two girls, Sophie Bradley and Anita Asante were sent in. On the other side, Japan coach Norio Sasaki did not make any changes from the starting 11 she used in the previous game against Mexico. I would have done the same, honestly, that game went down perfectly! But it was clear that Powell’s changes made the difference yesterday.

The game started with both teams aggressively fighting for possession. Japan had the best chances in the opening minutes of the game, with Bardsley (England’s GK) being tested several times by Nagasato and Kosue Ando. However, Japan’s inefficiency in handling high balls proved to be fatal in the 15th minute, when White received a high cross from the midfield, and lobbed it high over goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori, landing the first goal of the game! The cross by Carney was perfectly designed to take advantage of the huge distance between the two defenders that were on both sides of White, but none near enough to make a decisive intervention.

The goal didn’t settle’s England’s appetite for more goals, nor did it demoralize the Japanese girls. After the 15th minute both teams went for possession and tried to build opportunites, but no relevant chance at goal was recorded. Great passing and patience from the two teams though. England noticed, and took advantage of the gaps between the Japanese girls, while the latter tried to overcome the defense on England’s flanks with some well-thought actions. In fact, 20 minutes after the goal, Aya Sameshima’s shot was beautifully cleared by the British goalkeeper, ending a great passing duo between Sameshima and Miyama. Seconds later, England had their chance of doubling their advantage, but Kaihori did great to divert another looped from the same White, giving the Brits a corner. The last chance of the first half belonged to the Japanese, who tested Bardsley with Miyama’s cross shot, punched by the keeper just until Yukari Kinga, who finished it with a wide effort.

England vs. JapanThe Japanese pressed hard in the opening minutes of the first half, and their excellent winged attack brought them an excellent chance to score. The same Miyama beautifully swinged in a tricky ball through England’s defense and landed it to Yuki Nagasato, who shot wide. The pressure continued after this chance, and England had a very tough time keeping the Japanese attack out of their area. Bardsley positioned herself well in the penalty area (unlike Kaihori), and knew when to catch and when to block. Overall, the English protected their goal tightly, and the Japanese didn’t find any openings.

Powell made a substitute at half-time which brought England a lot of relief minutes later. The hero from the game against New Zealand, Jessica Clarke was substituted by Rachel Yankey. The latter received a good cross while on counter-attack and kicked it over Kaihori and into the net in the 66th minute of play! It was a much-awaited goal for England, who seemed already exhausted after Japan’s pressure. The game seemed pretty much set after this goal, with Japan continuing to mildly press, while the English stayed in their own half for much of the remaining playtime.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable game. This was England’s first win against Japan, while Japan still has to beat an European team at the World Cup. The good news is, both teams make it to the quarter finals, with England finishing first in Group B, while Japan takes the runner-up position.

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