White's brace clinches top spot for clinical England
England claimed top spot in Group D of the Women's World Cup and more than probable meeting with China after a 2-0 victory over Japan in Nice. Both teams had already qualified goinjg into today's game, but Japan needed the victory to come first in the group.
Japan dominated the opening exchanges and could have scored on two occasions. Yokoyama hit a shot over the bar in the fifth minute after being fed by Iwabuchi and then four minutes later, she hit a 35 yard thunderbolt from a free-kick which going in the top corner until Bardsley got fingertips to it to tip onto the crossbar. When Japan looked the more likely to score, they fell behind after 15 minutes.
Stanway made a great run turning past the defender, she played it to White who slotted it into the empty net after the goalie had come out to try and get the ball. Ichise did her best to try and get back, but she was unable to get there in time. That then brought about a brief spell of English dominance. Scott forced a good save from Yamashita down to her right three minutes later and then Stanway forced another tremendous save from her after Duggan passed her the ball from a corner. White also headed wide of the goal before the game started to become more even.
Yokoyama shot straight at keeper Bardsley just after the half-hour mark and then Yamashita denied Daly after she controlled a long punt forward, but after that, the last 10 minutes of the first period were a non-event. The ball was mainly in midfield and the match was being played at a very slow tempo.
The second half started in a similar vein as England knew they needed to concede two goals to be knocked off top spot and Japan were unable to break down the English defence.
Finally, in the 59th minute, Toni Duggan almost doubled England's lead after she hit Lucy Bronze's cross from the right down to Yamashita's left, but the goalie was up to the task. Japan then made a positive substtution which saw Sugasawa come on. Although she did not score, she was very dangerous in the half an hour she was on the pitch.
She had a shot at the goalkeeper in the 73rd minute and the game changed radically in the last 15 minutes as Japan started to press and cause problems for the England defence. Iwabuchi made a brilliant run in the 77th minute, but her end product was poor and then Sugasawa then hit over the bar on the half-volley after chesting down a pass in front of Houghton. Sugasawa once again tested the England goal eight minutes from time when Sameshima sent in a beautiful delivery into the box and she got her foot to it, but it went just wide of the goal.
Just as Japan were looking like they would level the scores, England sealed the killer blow. Carney played in White and she shot from inside the box to the right of the goalkeeper. Yamashita could not reach with her outstretched arm and once again, England scored when they were on the back foot.
Iwabuchi then hit a powerful effort wide after scooping the ball up in the air. It would have been unstoppable had it been on target, but it flew wide. Four minutes of injury time were then played, but it was very quiet and England sealed a 2-0 victory as well as claiming a sort of revenge for their semi-final defeat four years ago.
England finish top of the group and will now probably play China in the next round while Japan may well have to play the Netherlands, but it remains to be seen. In the same group, Argentina need help elsewhere to qualify for the last 16 after a stunning comeback against Scotland with three goals in the last 15 minutes to claim a 3-3 draw, the last of those thanks to a VAR penalty which had to be retaken. Scotland have no chance of progressing after their collapse.