Nice, France, Jun 20 – England coach Phil Neville said his team were “just where we want to be” as Ellen White’s brace saw them head into the last 16 of the women’s World Cup with a 2-0 win over Japan on Wednesday.
Georgia Stanway released White to slot home the opener in the 14th minute, and the same player wrapped up the win six minutes from time.
A much-changed England were already through to the knockout phase before this, but the victory in Nice ensured that they progress as winners of Group D. It also allowed them to gain a measure of revenge for their heartbreaking 2-1 defeat against the same opponents in the semi-finals four years ago.
“We’ve got another clean sheet, we’ve won another game, we’ve played three and won three, and we’re just where we want to be, in the last 16, and ready to attack the business end of the tournament,” said Neville.
White came back into the line-up as one of eight changes following the 1-0 win over Argentina, and took her tally of goals in this World Cup to three overall.
“I’m delighted to have got two starts and for me I am delighted to contribute to this team in any way I can, on and off the pitch, and contributing with two goals is a dream really,” said the 30-year-old.
“It was about winning the group, that is what we have done and now we will look forward to the round of 16.”
While both sides were already through before this encounter on the Cote d’Azur, there was certainly plenty to be gained by finishing first in the section given what is likely to come next.
Having arrived in France with genuine ambitions of winning the trophy, England will now head north to Valenciennes for a last-16 tie on Sunday against a third-placed side from another group.
However, they will not know until late on Thursday who they will be coming up against, with Cameroon, New Zealand, Chile and even Thailand all potential opponents.
The permutations are less complicated for Japan, but the Nadeshiko — World Cup winners in 2011 and runners-up in 2015 — will surely have a stiffer test in Rennes against either the Netherlands or Canada.
– ‘Very powerful’ –
Asako Takakura’s youthful team finish the group phase with just one win, and another run to the final appears a long shot at this stage.
“I am not satisfied with anything, apart from the fact we have qualified,” said Takakura.
“England are an excellent team, very powerful, with very fast players going forward.”
England, in contrast, progress with three wins out of three, despite Neville ringing the changes once again.
Only captain Steph Houghton, right-back Lucy Bronze and midfielder Jill Scott kept their places from the Argentina clash. Demi Stokes and Toni Duggan made their first appearances of the tournament.
It was Japan who almost took an early lead from Kumi Yokoyama’s 35-yard free-kick which England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley tipped onto the woodwork and behind for a corner.
Soon after, England were in front, the impressive Stanway playing in White, who fired past the advancing Japanese goalkeeper, Ayaka Yamashita.
Scott, Stanway and Rachel Daly were all denied by Yamashita as Neville’s team pushed to extend their lead before half-time, and their physical superiority was such that they certainly deserved their advantage.
Duggan was also denied after the restart, but England eventually got their second goal from another clinical first-time finish by White, this time from a Karen Carney pass.
Substitute Yuika Sugasawa twice came close to scoring for Japan, either side of White’s second strike, but there was to be no consolation for them.