FIFA Women’s World Cup Day 8:

Group D: JAPAN 2-1 SCOTLAND

Mana Iwabuchi opens the scoring for Japan

It was a case of too little, too late for Scotland at Roazhon Park as Japan gave an accomplished passing performance to take all three points and leave Shelley Kerr’s side needing nothing short of a win in their final group game. The Nadeshiko completely dominated the first half, scoring first through Mana Iwabuchi and then extending their lead from the penalty spot. Positive substitutions enabled the Scots to rally in the last twenty minutes of the match but they were denied what looked a ‘stone-wall’ penalty decision for handball. They kept plugging away and eventually substitute Lana Clelland reduced the deficit, firing in from the edge of the box.

Without injured Christie Murray, Scotland Head Coach Kerr brought in Lizzie Arnot to bolster midfield, put Kirsty Smith in at right back and gave a 100th cap to Hayley Lauder. With Kim Little and Caroline Weir anchoring the midfield it looked a very attacking line up. Asako Takakura had called this a “must-win match” beforehand and made some changes of her own after the disappointing scoreless draw with Argentina, bringing in Mana Iwabuchi, Jun Endo and Nana Ichise.

In radiant sunshine, both teams started brightly, enjoying spells of possession early on. Emi Nakajima volleyed narrowly wide after good work from Iwabuchi on the left. Scotland responded with Lauder trying her luck from distance following a good interchange with Jane Ross.

But Japan’s movement and passing started to dictate the tempo and pattern of the first half. The Scots were too slow in transition from defence to attack and struggled to get out of their defensive third, so Japan pressed higher looking to capitalise on errors.   Lisa Evans was caught in possession on the edge of the box but Iwabuchi fired straight at Lee Alexander, well set at her near post.

Japan took the lead on 23 minutes with Scotland again caught trying to play out with no space available. Endo seized on the loose ball, fed Iwabuchi and the striker thumped the ball in from 18 yards, deceiving an unsighted Alexander who may be disappointed she didn’t do better. It was a poor goal to concede; no one closed in on the shooter and Beattie turned her back on it.

A few minutes later, with the former World Champions in complete control, Scotland just about survived a goalmouth scramble with Iwabuchi, Sugasawa and Endo all having bites of the cherry before Alexander gratefully fell on the loose ball.

Left back, Aya Sameshima, then crossed from deep, Sugaswa won the first header, Iwabuchi the second and Kim Little rescued the Scots by clearing off the goal line. Sugasawa went close again a minute later, hitting the side netting from a near post corner routine.

Scotland continued to live dangerously and could muster no tempo in their attacking play. It looked simply a matter of time before Japan got their second.  

Sure enough, it arrived in the 36th minute. Shimizu’s cross from the right caught Rachel Corsie flat footed and she put her hands on the onrushing Sugasawa. Referee Lidya Tafesse pointed to the spot and VAR confirmed her decision. Sugasawa got up and confidently sent Alexander the wrong way for 2-0.

The Scots, who had overcome losing positions four times in qualifying, were going to need something special with the Japanese now in complete control. Ross, Arnot and Lauder enjoyed a short spell of possession on the left that ended with Erin Cuthbert cutting inside her marker but driving over.

One minute of stoppage time was indicated and Japan tried to put the game out of reach. Hina Sugita clipped a half volley off the crossbar from Endo’s cross, and then Shimizu blasted over the rebound.

Into the second half and Scottish fans may have been wondering if anything of note had been said in the dressing room. A strategy of containment would only suit Japan, the Scots needed to be more aggressive. There seemed no confidence at all to play the ball through midfield and Kim Little was unable to make an impact on the game. Weir’s weak effort was all they had to show for the first fifteen minutes and a gear change didn’t appear to be coming.

But on the hour Kerr brought on Claire Emslie for Lizzie Arnot and immediately the Orlando Pride winger brought a new energy to the group. A couple of good runs into Japanese territory started to galvanise Erin Cuthbert who now had someone to cause havoc with.

Emslie won a corner on the left which Little swung in, but Jen Beattie couldn’t get direction on her header.  Coach Kerr then looked to add more physicality and fresh legs to her attack with Lana Clelland joining the fray. Her first big contribution was to win a free-kick near the right corner flag. Weir swung it to the back post and Cuthbert reacted first, smashing against post from close range.

Cuthbert now seemed to be in her element: causing chaos. She set up Lisa Evans who forced a smart save out of Yamashita.

From being totally in control suddenly Japan were rattled. Scotland were moving the ball quicker left to right, always bringing in Emslie; she dug out a cross for Cuthbert and, as the Chelsea player turned Shimizu, the ball clearly hit the defender’s outstretched hand. The referee waved it away and there appeared to be no VAR check. Cuthbert looked astonished and was still remonstrating with the match official a full five minutes later.

Scotland’s lifeline came too late. Inchise played a horrible pass across the backline straight to Clelland. The striker got the ball on to her left foot and hammered it into Yamashita’s top left hand corner.

Quite how the officials only calculated two minutes of stoppage time would have been a mystery to everyone in the Scottish dugout. There were five substitutions and a goal celebration which suggests three minutes as a minimum.  In any event it didn’t matter as Japan made the only clear-cut chance when Kobayashi found Sugita in the box and Alexander was at full stretch to prevent a third.

Quite whether Shelley Kerr will look back on her starting eleven with regret remains to be seen. The Japanese were their majestic best for 60 minutes but weaknesses were revealed once the Scots figured out how to take the game to them. Emslie and Clelland made a big impact and seemed also to spark Cuthbert into life. Too many key players, though, were off their game for Scotland and these are the ones that must find their groove before Argentina in Paris next Wednesday. Victory over the Albicelestes still might not be enough to make the round of 16, but anything less definitely opens the trap door…  

Player of the match: Mana Iwabuchi, Japan (the hub of everything Japan did well)

Group C: JAMAICA 0-5 ITALY

A hat-trick for Italian striker Cristiana Girelli

A hat-trick from Cristiana Girelli and a brace from Aurora Galli guaranteed World Cup knockout football for Italy for the first time ever. The Reggae Girlz may feel that they weren’t necessarily five goals worse on the day, but now know that victory over Australia by a considerable margin is the only way they can avoid an early plane home.

Jamaica Head Coach Hue Menzies brought in Mireya Grey to add pace to the attack, along with Sashana Campbell and Chinyelu Asher.  Italy made a couple of changes to the team that had surprisingly turned over Australia with Daniela Sabatino joining Girelli and Barbara Bonansea in the front three.

The Italians were ahead on 8 minutes after Allyson Swaby fouled Bonansea. The referee missed it but good old VAR was there to correct the decision. Girelli stepped up to take on Sydney Schneider, who already had one penalty save for the tournament. The Italian put her effort to the keeper’s left, and the 19-year old turned it round the post for a corner.  Cue the referee’s whistle and a retake; VAR identified that Schneider had strayed off the goal line. Girelli, unmoved, volunteered again and went the other way to put Le Azzurre ahead. A full four minutes had passed between the foul and the goal.

It was two on 25 minutes when Girelli arrived to meet Manuela Giugliano’s out-swinging corner from the right, adjusting her body shape to deal with the bounce and converting off her left thigh.

Three minutes later another corner, this time from the right caused chaos. The ball pinballed around Jamaica’s six-yard box before Daniela Sabatino’s half volley hit the bar.

Girelli claimed the match ball within 60 seconds of the second half restart, rising to beat Schneider to Giugliano’s cross from the right.

Jamaica had their best spell at 0-3 down and there was a definite sense that the neutrals in the crowd wanted them to get on the scoreboard. Khadija Shaw picked the keeper’s pocket but Havana Solaun’s shot was blocked by Giugliano. Laura Giuliani in the Italy goal then had to deal with Den-Den Blackwood’s stray cross, tipping it onto the bar.

Italy Head Coach Milena Bertolini shuffled her pack and brought on Lisa Boattin and Galli. They combined for Italy’s fourth; Galli hitting an absolute thunderbolt from 20-yards that Schneider did well to see – let alone get a hand to.  And the midfielder scored again ten minutes later, latching on to Giugliano’s pass of the match, rounding the keeper and smashing in emphatically.

The Reggae Girlz, to their credit, kept plugging away all the way into stoppage time when Solaun’s deflected low drive was well parried by Giuliani.

A point against Brazil will secure top spot in Group C for the Italians, but they must now feel that they have enough talent and fortitude in this group of players to win that match outright.  

Player of the match: Manuela Giugliano, Italy (Three assists, consistently excellent dead ball delivery and absolutely everything went through her in midfield)

Group D: ENGLAND 1-0 ARGENTINA

England’s Jodie Taylor puts England ahead in Le Havre

Despite a missed first half penalty, victory for England this evening ensured their progress to the round of 16. With Argentinian goalkeeper Vanina Correa in inspired form, it looked like it was going to be another ‘one of those nights’ for England fans; but once Jodie Taylor made the breakthrough for the Lionesses on 61 minutes the result never looked in doubt.  Japan now await Phil Neville’s side next Wednesday to sort out who gets first place in Group D.

Carlos Borrello made just one change to the side that held Japan to a goalless draw, drafting in Adriana Sachs for Virginia Gómez. England made four changes; the most surprising of which was replacing keeper Karen Bardsley for Carly Telford. Taylor, without a goal for her country in over a year, replaced Ellen White, arguably England’s best player against Scotland.

Argentina set out to make it a niggly, physical encounter with Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris on the end of some early ‘treatment’. It was an occasion for the Lionesses to stay cool and remain patient and, once Neville’s side had the measure of Borrello’s tactics, they set about trying to make the all-important breakthrough. On thirteen minutes Lucy Bronze hit the by-line and found Jill Scott who headed straight at Correa. Steph Houghton then failed to test the keeper, firing over from a direct free kick.

England thought they were well set to open the scoring on 27 minutes. Houghton’s diagonal ball found Beth Mead in space; she played Alex Greenwood into the box and Ruth Bravo mistimed her challenge. Nikita Parris grabbed the ball while VAR checked the decision. Would she go the same way as her spot kick against the Scots? No, she went for Correa’s left-hand corner and the keeper guessed right pushing it on to the post. Taylor was first to the ball but appeared to be bundled over before she could wrap her foot around it. There was to be no second award.

The Lionesses continued to press for the opener. Jill Scott headed over from Fran Kirby and then the Chelsea forward, much brighter on the ball tonight, played Mead in but Correa saved with her feet.

On 51 minutes Alex Greenwood’s free kick caused panic in the Argentinian six-yard box, the ball broke to Parris on the penalty spot and she hit a fierce drive on the half volley, but found her nemesis, Correa, equal to it. A VAR check followed for handball but there was nothing doing.

The breakthrough came just after the hour with a move that started on the edge of England’s penalty area. Jill Scott drove fifty yards through midfield, passed to Kirby, who found Mead out on the left wing. It needed an instant cross and Mead played the perfect ball between keeper and defenders to Taylor at the back post, who knocked it in without breaking stride.   

The relief was palpable, not least because Argentina had presented absolutely no goal threat of their own. And so, it would remain. Scott had two more headed efforts that didn’t trouble Correa and England managed the game to its conclusion with Telford fielding just one shot from outside the penalty area without fuss.

England’s last warm up game prior to the World Cup was a friendly with New Zealand, a tough, physical side, well organised and incredibly hard to break down – indeed as the Netherlands found on Tuesday in Group E. England lost that friendly. But tonight, Phil Neville’s Lionesses demonstrated that lessons had been learned. They were ready for exactly this kind of match. Next up, an entirely different encounter against the expansive and technically gifted Japanese. England will want to win that match and the group with it, but whatever happens knockout football is assured.

Player of the match: Vanina Correa, Argentina (had the game of her life in goal; she was unlucky to end up on the losing team)

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