I made a terrible mistake. If you didn’t watch the Japan vs England game this morning, good for you. Don’t start now, just stop reading this and go watch the Scotland vs. Argentina game. Do it. There is nothing else that will cause you both more pain and joy than those 90+ minutes.
If, like me, you thought the game for the top spot would be worth a watch and ended up totally regretting it or falling asleep wrapped in your doona on the couch, then girl have I got some words for you. This was meant to be the revenge game! Japan knocked England out at the semi-final in 2015, top spot plays a third-place winner in the Round of 16, England has Phil Neville (Manchester United 4 lyf) and Japan has Asako Takakura who has been awarded the AFC Women’s Coach of the Year more times than Brisbane Roar had a player sent off in the 18/19 season. THIS WAS MEANT TO BE THE ENTERTAINING SHOW DOWN GAME.
Instead, they both played the most possessive, back pass, holding football that I felt like Kent Brockman during that Simpsons episode on Mexico vs. Portugal. The stats give away how equal this game was – both teams making over 500 passes (so many passes), with exactly 79% accuracy, no yellow or red cards, both with just over 10 shots but the difference came down to the 2 extra shots on target that England had (total of 6) to the 4, I would argue, generously given shots on target for Japan.
The game started out well enough with Japan early on the attack and a brilliant free kick by Yokoyama in the 8th minute that was well saved by Bardsley. The game would ultimately be defined by the fabulous saves made by both goalkeepers but more so by Yamashita who was the standout, probably preventing the score-line from looking a bit worse.
It was White in the 14th minute who broke the deadlock and made it 1-0. After a lot of corners and failed crosses, a swift turn and pass by Stanway got the ball to White’s feet who kicked it in. I was happy until about 10 minutes later. It was around the 28th minute that I noticed how much the pace had slowed down. England were playing almost entirely in their back third and Japan were not pressing forward. I think this was most disappointing because there were a few wobbly passes that I couldn’t help but wonder if Japan had been more forward focused, they could have capitalised on.
The difference really came down to a few moments of pressure and England were the ones better placed and able to do it. Those brutes. Yamashita continued to produce beautiful saves and was probably as disappointed as me with the few somewhat lazy shots Japan took. Iwabuchi with probably the best chance before half time, and it was a slow poke to nowhere.
During the half time break, Aloisi popped onto my screen and I knew I should have switched games. Someone then mentioned how the pre-game interview could be described as the ‘mutual appreciation society’ and yet I still ignored the signs.
Back in the second half, England went on the attack (yay!) wanting to ensure their lead, but it didn’t take long for the back passes to begin again (boo!). Walsh with a decent shot on goal and Yamashita with another save in the 58th minute kept me awake just enough to see the referee get hit in the face with a ball in the 70th minute. Seriously, these were my highlights ladies.
The second half can be defined by Japan either taking one too many passes toward goal, allowing England to step in, or going for glory that we all could see was not going to work. England were still playing at the back but had the better chances when they decided to go for a run. In the 83rd minute it was White again who was able to break through and those smooth passes allowed for a powerful shot on goal. I will admit this was beautifully done.
England were then caught out a few times with the commentators concerned that they were showing defensive holes. I reality, I think England were like every office worker at 3pm on a Friday. It was close enough to knock off, you just need to do the bare minimum to get by. Japan’s shots had minimal to no conviction, were directly to Bradsley, or England put just enough pressure to ensure the ball would go wide.
The Lionesses yawned their way to a 2-0 win and ensured they top the group and face a third placed team in the Round of 16. Japan did enough in the other games to ensure their progression and will face either Norway or Canada. Feel free to angrily tweet at me if you think I am wrong and this game was entertaining but I will be more surprised if you even made it this far down the article. Zzzzz.
By Nerisa Dozo