With both teams having been humbled in their first She Believes Cup matches this year, there was wholesale changes from both – although the constricted tournament schedule could easily play its part too. On paper the rotation did its job with the only goal coming in the last ten minutes of the match but inarguably, both teams were subpar and the match was a hard watch.
Lauren Hemp could have set the tone when she nipped in behind and forced a save out of Sakiko Ikeda in the third minute but the match remained a stilted affair. Between Japan’s punts from range to Beth England’s insipid efforts when she found herself in, the match consistently failed to spark into life and carried the feeling of a soggy sock throughout.
Clearly second best against Spain, Japan spent all match looking for inspiration and what they found was nothing. Risa Shimizu who had done well against Spain and was having a fine game was forced off through injury at the end of the first half and Nadeshiko were left even flatter. Mana Iwabuchi’s starting position further down the pitch left her quiet throughout as Mina Tanaka was left isolated, trying to run at the defence but too outnumbered to do much.
Out of season and looking less and less like the team that evolved from the 2011 World Cup winners, Asako Takakura’s side lacked the passing game you’d expect from Japan, players struggling to find each other. Offering little threat going forward, invisibility in midfield and needless mistakes at the back, Nadeshiko could have been picked off, shot like geriatric fish in a barrel but luckily for them, England were having their own problems.
For the Lionesses, everything seemed like hard work. The defence ticked a box, doing enough when Japan came close to an approximation of threatening, but Rachel Daly and Demi Stokes offered little going forward from full-back and too often Steph Houghton resulted to hoofing the ball out from the back. Jordan Nobbs managed to be the key creator for England, hammering home her omission against the USA but still on her way back to the player she was before her ACL injury, she lacked that Jordan Nobbs je ne sais quoi.
Given the start, England had a couple of half chances born of her own determination, but her finish was lacking, making things too easy for Ikeda, her efforts tame in contrast to her proactivity and clinical touch for Chelsea. Hemp again managed to stand out in the first half but for the majority of the starters, especially after the break there was little to write home about, players blurring into an uninspired beige.
The introduction of Nikita Parris and Ellen White [among others] after the hour looked to inject a little something into the team and it another substitute, Toni Duggan whose ball for White that brought about the only goal of the game. Taking liberties all match, Ikeda and her defence were caught out with seven minutes left when White found herself one-on-one before sending the ball spinning over the line. On the balance of the game and with the official stats claiming ten shots a piece, it’s hard to say the win was a deserved one, the game a dour affair that probably didn’t deserve a winner.
Japan: Ikeda, Shimizu (Endo 45’), Miyake, Miyagawa, Doko, Miura, Sugita, Nakajima (c), Iwabuchi (Ueki 66’), Momiki, Tanaka (Ueno 76’).
England: Roebuck, Daly, Houghton (c), Bright, Stokes, Nobbs (Scott 92’), Walsh (Williamson 60’), Stanway (Staniforth 69’), Kelly (Parris 60’), England (White 68’), Hemp (Duggan 60’)
Goals: White 83’
Cautions: Chloe Kelly 54’, Sugita 61’
Referee: Ekaterina Koroleva
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