Lionesses find their roar
A goal in each half gave England a 2-0 win over Japan in Augsburg in a result which not only gave them the three points, but also meant topping Group B in the process.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki named an unchanged line-up, while Hope Powell opted to give a break to captain Faye White and midfielder Fara Williams who both came into the tournament after recently recovering from knee injuries. Sophie Bradley and Anita Asante respectively took their places. England’s matchwinner from the last game, Jessica Clarke was preferred to Rachel Yankey out wide.
Kozue Ando had the first chance of the match, testing Karen Bardsley in the England goal with a shot from the edge of the box, but the England goalkeeper was equal to it. There were nervous moments for Japan as Sophie Bradley’s long throw was almost turned home by Ellen White, but Saki Kumagai turned the ball out for a corner.
Nagasato once again tested Bardsley from distance from the edge of the box, but it was another speculative strike which broke the deadlock with 15 minutes played. Carney’s looping ball between Japan's central defenders was met by a volleyed lob from White, which sailed over Ayumi Kaihori and into the net.
After a period of attractive, patient possession football from both sides, it was 20 minutes before the games next real chance which fell to Japan. Aya Miyama and Aya Sameshima combined well before the latter’s goalbound shot was cleared by Bradley. It was a game you could not take your eyes off.
England had a great chance to double their advantage a minute later when Jessica Clarke's cross was met by White's overhead kick. The ball almost looped over Kaihori, but at full stretch she was able to divert it out for a corner. The game was opening up now and after a committed run from defence by Sameshima, Miyama’s cross-cum-shot from the left was palmed away by Bardsley into the path of Yukari Kinga who blazed over.
A well worked free-kick five minutes after the restart almost saw Japan draw level. Miyama’s inswinging set-piece deceived the England defence and the unmarked Yuki Nagasato prodded the ball wide from close range. Japan were having their best spell of the game and only a well-organised England defence were keeping them at bay.
The Nadeshiko were made to regret not making the most of their pressure as England doubled their advantage in the 66th minute, when Unitt’s cross was controlled and then clipped over Kaihori by substitute Yankey.
Bardsley’s dominance of her penalty area and excellent decision-making to either collect or punch crosses from either flank were key in keeping Japan at bay.
Memories of the 2007 when Japan staged a late fightback were probably firmly fixed in England minds but they did well to avoid any undue pressure to close the game out, top the group and set up a meeting with the runners-up of Group A on Saturday in Leverkusen.