SheBelieves Cup 2020: England v Japan

8th March 2020

After a disappointing start to the tournament, losing 2-0 to the USA, the Lionesses would be looking to put a few things right in their match against Japan.

Having to take stock and go back to the drawing board, Phil Neville was under pressure to select a side that would make an impact early. After choosing a starting line-up that was perhaps not the best suited to the high press of the USA, Neville made six changes for the Lionesses second fixture.

A youthful forward three consisting of Lauren Hemp, Beth England and Chloe Kelly would hopefully see a pick-up in pace up front. Although an inexperienced top line, having three standout WSL players lining up together was surely not going to hurt England’s chances. A midfield made up with the spirit Georgia Stanway, the vision of Keira Walsh and the creativity of Jordan Nobbs, looking likely to support the forward three well.

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At the back, perhaps a more robust defensive line. Starts for Rachel Daly and Demi Stokes, alongside the more consistent pairing of Steph Houghton and Millie Bright. A start for pegged number one Ellie Roebuck in goal; real opportunity for Roebuck to show what she can do after Carly Telford’s outstanding performance on Friday.

Looking at the line-up, it was perhaps a much more comfortable selection for supporters to get behind. Yet, even with this, the Lionesses would need to graft to take a win against this competent Japanese side. Donning their berry blush kit, the Lionesses lined up in New Jersey to try their hand once again.

A quick start for Japan saw them test their luck with a shot just fifteen seconds after kick off. But fast to react, Hemp gave England their first chance of the match the other end three minutes in. A slightly sloppy start for both sides. Japan taking the upper hand quickly again, the Lionesses left too much space with a moment of untidy defending, meaning Roebuck had to get a strong hand on the shot to send it wide.

 

The first half on the whole was pretty evenly sided, with nothing much to separate the two sides in terms of possession and chances. Both sides making promising attacks but neither one taking advantage of their position. The Lionesses finishing ball not managing to hit the target, and Japan’s long shots not quite hitting the mark. England perhaps looking the more likely to score towards the end of the half, patiently building up for that opening. Yet it remained all square at half time.

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A change in tempo was needed from either side to get things moving to start the second half. A mistake at the back by Sugita saw Walsh manage to send a ball England’s way, yet with a tight angle to work with England could not finish it. At the other end, a well timed reverse ball saw Japan with possibly their best chance of the match; Houghton dealt with the threat well and sent it packing.

A triple change at the hour mark saw the Lionesses take on a more experienced formation. Toni Duggan, Leah Williamson and Nikita Parris coming into the fold and making an immediate impact. Parris drawing a foul in a dangerous area; the set piece delivered well by Duggan, yet once again the Lionesses not able to make anything from it. Japan were certainly not willing to go down without a fight, and a looming danger presented by Tanaka saw Bright and Houghton have to make a number of blocks in succession.

England and Stanway off, Ellen White and Lucy Staniforth on, the Lionesses were now hungry to break the deadlock. Another mistake at the back by Japan handed the ball to Duggan, who swiftly slid the ball into the box to White. White’s clinical finish prevailed once again, absolutely proving why she is so dangerous in an England shirt. The Lionesses took the lead at 83 minutes. Their opening goal looking to open the floodgates, the Lionesses did threaten more heavily in the final few minutes, yet they could not convert any more chances. Full time whistle blown, Japan – 0, England - 1.

A much calmer performance from the Lionesses today, yet perhaps still not quite as organised as one would have hoped. The starting front three saw plenty of the ball which is hopeful, their team mates managing to provide them with the service to attack. Unfortunately, both England and Hemp missed chances that domestically perhaps they would have scored, however the gravitas of the occasion should be considered in this instance. International football is a step up from club level, even for players with such form.

Defensively a much more settled display, Bright and Houghton not leaving an awful lot for Roebuck to do, especially during the second half. Yet Roebuck stepped up valiantly when needed. Duggan and Nobbs proving to be the Lionesses standout players today, excellent movement and accurate passing consistently seen from both. Duggan in particular lending herself to a number of the Lionesses attacks.

Overall, a more settled game for England, who were possibly unlucky in being caught out a number of times with Japan playing them offside. A much better keep of possession and an entirely improved cohesive unit compared with their last game. But more work needed to be done in finishing in the final third. Perhaps not the most convincing win, but an important one nonetheless. Now calls the time for the Lionesses to amp it up in preparation for their next game, against a rather devilish looking Spain.