Women’s World Cup: Japan vs England Preview

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Thursday 2nd July – 00:00 – Commonwealth Stadium

England? In a World Cup semi-final? Yes, for the first time ever the Lionesses have reached this stage of the tournament, and the only thing standing between them and a place in the final is reigning champions Japan. Since finishing second in Group F, England have recorded 2-1 wins over Norway (round of 16) and hosts Canada (quarter-finals) respectively to make history. Meanwhile, Japan won Group C with three victories out of three and have beaten the Netherlands and then Australia so far in the knockout stage. This means that they have an 100% record in Canada so far and have conceded just two goals. We know the winner of this game will play the USA in Vancouver, so will it be a repeat of the 2011 final or will Mark Sampson’s team become the first England side since 1966 to reach a World Cup Final? The BBC have put the game on One once again, and the coverage starts at 11:10pm with kick-off at midnight.

England Team News

  • Mark Sampson has changed his side around for every match, using 22 of his 23 player squad, making it difficult to predict who will start against Japan.
  • Karen Bardsley should return in goal after being forced off against Canada due to swelling near her eye.
  • Many members of the England squad have been watching the film Gascoigne for inspiration in preparation for the game. Let’s hope they don’t fall to the same fate as him at the 1990 World Cup.

The Key Battle: Azuzu Iwashimizu vs Jodie Taylor

Jodie Taylor, England v China

With one World Cup winner’s medal around her neck already, Japan centre-back Azuzu Iwashimizu wants another and has been instrumental in her side’s excellent defensive record so far in Canada, which has seen them conceded just twice.

The 28 year old has 111 international caps, and is also a huge threat at set-pieces, scoring the winning goal in both the semi-final and the final at last year’s Women’s Asian Cup.

In contrast, Jodie Taylor is relatively inexperienced, having only made her England debut in August 2014. She came into the tournament following knee surgery, but proved doubters wrong when she gave the Lionesses the lead with an expert finish against Canada in the quarter-finals.

Her pace and strong running could cause Japan problems, but Iwashimizu is well aware of the threat. “Their long straight passes are high in quality,” she said. “So we need to handle that well defensively.”

Last Meeting: England 1-1 Japan (26th June 2013)

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Rachel Yankey became England’s most capped international ever as the Lionesses drew a pre-Euro 2013 friendly against Japan 1-1 at Burton’s Pirelli Stadium. They opened the scoring with a goal straight out of Japan’s tiki-taka textbook, a flowing 41st-minute move of one-touch passes completed with a crisp finish by the Chelsea striker Eniola Aluko. But a dreadful error by the Liverpool midfielder Fara Williams, who inexplicably under-hit a pass straight to an opponent 30 yards from goal, led to the left-winger Nahomi Kawasumi equalising 14 minutes from time. England were then denied a last-minute winner by a marginal offside decision as debutant Lucy Bronze’s header found the net.

The Japan Lowdown

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  • Manager: Norio Sasaki
  • Captain: Aya Miyama
  • World Ranking: 4th
  • Best World Cup Performance: Winners (2011)

Star Player – Aya Miyama

With veteran Homare Sawa struggling with injuries, Aya Miyama was handed the Japanese captain’s armband at the start of the tournament and has led by example to get within touching distance of lifting the World Cup. Playing as a winger, Miyama scored a penalty to win the opening game against Switzerland whilst she also has a couple of assists to her name in Canada. The 30 year old is an experienced international with 151 Japan caps (37 goals), and was named in the team of the tournament at the last World Cup, scoring in the final as well as netting her penalty in the shoot-out. Moreover, Miyama has been named Asian Women’s Player of the Year on two previous occasions. Diminutive at just 5ft 2in, her presence is huge and the 30-year-old will attempt to dictate the tempo, perhaps starting on the left but always cutting infield.

Strengths

Many of the Japan squad know what it takes to win the World Cup after being victorious four years ago. It was their energy, tactics and brilliance in possession that made them worthy winners in Germany, and that remains the same with Norio Sasaki still in charge. They will never give up, and that showed as they fell behind twice in the 2011 final yet won, whilst scored in the 87th minute against Australia in the last round.  The Japanese team are the most technically advanced team in this tournament. All their players are comfortable on the ball with their right and left foot and rarely misplace a pass.

Weaknesses

For all of their technical brilliance, Japan aren’t a strong or tall team. If England can play balls over the top for Jodie Taylor to run on to they could catch them out, whilst the aggression of Katie Chapman and Jill Scott in the midfield will also be one of the ways that England can win the game. The Lionesses can’t grow frustrated if Japan have most of the possession, and need to close them down and put them under pressure as soon as possible. Furthermore, their recent record against other big teams is not great, having lost comfortably to France, Germany (three times) and Norway in the last two years. They have never beaten England in three attempts.

My Prediction: Japan 1-1 England (AET – Japan to win on penalties)

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It pains me to write this, but I think that England will lose out in the most agonising of circumstances. We could take the lead through Jodie Taylor, but Yuki Ogimi will equalise for the holders. That means that extra-time will be needed, but that won’t be able to separate the team, so it’ll go to the dreaded penalty shoot-out. With Japan’s experience in this situation and the England’s spot-kick record, I think this one might just slip away from Mark Sampson’s team in heartbreaking fashion. Please prove me wrong Lionesses!

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