July 5, 2011

England 2, Japan 0

England did not tempt fate and decided to take care of business themselves, defeating Japan 2-0 in their final group stage match. England are through to the quarterfinals, placing first in Group B play. They will await the result of the Germany-France match, as will Japan who finished second in Group B.

While England could have played conservative, as a tie would have been good enough going in, they played attacking soccer and looked better than they had in their two previous matches. Hope Powell inserted four different players into the starting lineup...Ellen White, Anita Asante, Sophie Bradley, and Jess Clarke.

Japan took the first shot of the day, but Kozue Ando's shot from distance was right at Karen Bardsley and the English keeper had no problem with it.

England struck in the 15th minute as Karen Carney struck a long ball up the middle from just on the English side of center. The ball split two Japanese defenders, Saki Kumagai and Aya Sameshima, as did Ellen White. White ran onto the bouncer and chipped a lob over Ayumi Kaihori, who got caught off her line. The ball went into the upper right corner of the net, as Kaihori was unable to do anything about it. England 1, Japan 0.

In the 35th minute, Japan was awarded a free kick. Japan caught England napping, with Miyama taking a quick short ball out to Yukari Kinga on the right wing. She hit a dangerous cross into the box, but Alex Scott just barely beat Ando to the header and English defender Sophie Bradley cleared the ball out of trouble just in the nick of time.

Two minutes later, Jill Scott stole the ball from Sameshima, but could only take a weak shot right at Kaihori. Then in the 38th minute, Jess Clarke's cross from the left side found Ellen White in the center of the box. White's bicycle kick nearly looped over Kaihori, but the Japanese goalkeeper made a great recovery, tipping the ball over the net at the last possible moment.

Japan came right back in the 40th minute. Karen Bardsley came out to punch the ball away from the goal on a Japanese cross, but the ball went right to Kinga. With Bardsley on the ground, Kinga had a golden opportunity, but her drive from 15 yards went well over the crossbar. It may have been Japan's best opportunity of the day and the game went into halftime with England leading 1-0.

England subbed in Rachel Yankey for Jess Clarke at the half and that move turned out to be fortuitious for England.

However, as the half started, Japan appeared to take over the initiative. Aya Miyama's free kick in the 49th minute was placed beautifully over the English defense, but Yuki Nagasato's sliding effort went wide of the post. In the 61st minute, Miyama's corner found Kinga 22 yards out in front of the goal, but her blast was blocked by Rachel Unitt. It appeared that it was only a matter of time before Japan might draw even.

But England would be the team to get the next goal. Unitt crossed the ball from the left side, with Rachel Yankey cutting in front to deflect the ball to the left side of the six yard box. Kaihori attempted to come out to block, but Yankey beat her to the ball and hit a clean shot over Kaihori to put England up 2-0.

In the 79th minute, Karen Bardsley twice came up big, punching out Japanese crosses on consecutive plays within seconds of each other. Bardsley was heading for her first shutout in World Cup play.

Japan would have two more opportunities in the closing moments. Azusa Iwashimizu's shot went wide of the right post in the 89th minute and then Nahomi Kawasumi's effort from 10 yards went over the crossbar in stoppage.

England had gotten the job done on this day. Hope Powell seemed to be pushing all the right buttons today and her decision to start White and sub in Yankey both proved to be excellent moves. England was able to shake off two rather average efforts to play a good match when they needed to. Alex Scott had a very strong match and the English defense as a whole quieted some of their detractors with a solid effort.

As for Japan, they played well, but throughout the match, they seemed to want to make the extra pass, often losing possession before getting a shot off. Their defense showed a few holes as well, which will cause them problems against either Germany or France, whichever turns out to be their quarterfinal foe.

England wins the group with seven points, with Japan finishing second with six points. Both England and Japan will play their quarterfinal matches on Saturday with their opponents to be determined later today.