England 2, Japan 0
England turned the threat of first-round elimination into Group
B victory with a 2-0 win over Japan to reach the Women’s World Cup
quarterfinals on Tuesday.
After a lackluster first two games, England was spectacular in
its decisive match. After 15 minutes, Sophie Bradley sent a deep
ball from her half of the field toward Ellen White, who spotted
goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori off her line. She let the ball bounce once
and lobbed it over Kaihori with precision from 21 yards.
In the 66th, Rachel Unitt shrugged off several defenders to set
up substitute forward Rachel Yankey for a delicate chip and the
Japan was supposed to be all about skill, while England relied
on power. But with an inspired performance and great goals, the
Englishwomen disproved it.
With the tournament on the line, England was aggressive and
played with passion throughout, while Japan rarely thrilled the
crowd of 20,777.
The victory gave England seven points, one more than Japan.
Mexico and New Zealand were eliminated.
After the game, the players united behind a Japanese banner
saying, ”To our friends around the world – Thank you for your
support,” recognizing the global aid in the wake of the deadly
Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March.
England had everything to play for. A big loss could have
eliminated it from the tournament. Instead, the win over Japan
allowed it avoid the top team of Group A in the quarterfinals.
The early goal settled nerves English nerves, and from then on
England always looked more like group winners than first-round
Japan started with the same lineup that set it up as a top seed,
while England made changes in four places to rev up its efforts.
Yet Japan found it tough to get its rhythm going.
After her first goal, White almost scored one of equal
brilliance in the 38th when she had to go back for a cross, yet
swung in an overhead volley that Kaihori barely tipped onto the
crossbar and over the net.
Japan sought a way back into the game in the second half and
Yuki Nagasato slid in behind defenders on a 49th-minute free kick,
but her deflection went just wide.