By Neil Leverett
- England’s women face Japan in their final World Cup Group D match on Wednesday evening at the Allianz Arena in Nice
- Lionesses will finish top of the standings with win or draw, after after consecutive wins in opening games
- Phil Neville’s side should avoid tougher Second Round tie with win against Nadeshiko
NICE, FRANCE – England’s Lionesses will look to guarantee top spot in Group D of the women’s World Cup, as they face Japan at Allianz Riviera in Nice on Wednesday night.
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Lionesses face off with Japan
Five days on from a narrow 1-0 win over Argentina in Le Havre – thanks largely to a one-woman show in Albicelestes’ stopper Vanina Correa – England’s Lionesses will look to guarantee top spot in Group D as they face Japan in their final game of the group stages at Allianz Riviera in Nice.
After Jodie Taylor scored the only the goal of the game in Normandy last Friday night, Phil Neville‘s side sit top of the standings on six points, with Nadeshiko in second on three, after their respective victory over Scotland.
With their passports stamped to the last 16 already, the Lionesses will look to go into the knockout stages on a high and avoid a trickier Second Round tie in the coming days, but may opt to shuffle their pack and rest key players looking to roar later in the competition.
The Japanese meanwhile should also qualify, but need a point to ensure their path either as group runners-up or as one of the third-placed finishers with a better points tally.
Decisions for Neville
After 180 minutes of gametime, England have played two different strikers in their opening games and boss Neville must decide whether to go with consistency against Japan, or opt for a fresher look in attack against a side who defensively, have looked resolute.
With a front three of Taylor, Beth Mead and Nikita Parris having caused the Argentine women all manner of problems, having netted just once will be of concern nonetheless, as they approach tougher and more technically proficient sides in latter stages of the tournament.
That may see Ellen White play as number nine after netting against the Scots, with the Manchester City striker a more mobile alternative to Taylor and able to utilise the trickery of Mead and the guile of Parris on the flanks.
The bigger decisions are likely to come in midfield. Fran Kirby was the fulcrum of the England win last time out, but could be given at least a half off with Karen Carney coming in to support the front three.
Jill Scott is unlikely to be rested – and would be at pains at even the suggestion – however after picking up a booking on Friday night, either of Scott’s clubmates in Georgia Stanway or Keira Walsh may come in.
Japan not taken lightly
Knowing only a win will guarantee topping the group, Japan will be on the front foot against the Lionesses, but that may play firmly into the hands of an England side not lacking pace on the counter-attack.
But Asako Takakura‘s side will not be taken lightly, nor will they go easily. As documented, Japan would have still maintained a World Cup clean sheet tally to this point, had it not been for Lara Clelland‘s late long-range effort in the 88th-minute in Rennes.
Indeed, at the She Believes Cup earlier this year, Japan drew 2-2 with World Cup favourites the United States via Yuka Momiki‘s stoppage time winner, and beat Brazil 3-1 as Japan finished third – behind England and the US in the final standings.
In the last meeting between the two, the Lionesses beat Wednesday evening’s opponents by three goals in Tampa, but other than a loss to France in Auxerre, the Japanese have lost just twice in 2019.
Whilst Mana Iwabuchi will be the danger to England in Nice, Yuika Sugasawa has scored two in her last three games and Rikako Kobayashi will be a threat from the bench, likely to be brought on late into the piece.
Knockout stage route
With the group stages negotiated after Wednesday evening, so begins the plotting of a course to the final in Lyon on July 7. For England, the permutations are very much balanced in terms of their future this summer.
A win or draw would avoid a tough-looking last 16 tie with the Netherlands or Canada, and potentially a semi-final meeting with world number two Germany in Lyon.
With favourites Jill Ellis‘ Stars and Stripes likely to finish in the top half of the draw, they or hosts France lie in wait in the last four, with England set to meet old foe Australia in the last eight.
Whilst finishing second in the group would see England meet the US in the final only, getting past the quarter-finals would be a tall feat for Neville’s charges. The comparative advantages of one route over another are slim, but as the number three ranked side in the world, and with the finishing places of runners-up and third place yet to be seeded in the other groups, for England to finish top still, the margins are more favoured.
England’s women play their final World Cup Group D game against Japan at the Allianz Riviera in Nice on Wednesday night, kick off 8pm BST
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