England face tough test against skilful Japan at World Cup

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “England face tough test against skilful Japan at World Cup” was written by John Ashdown in Augsburg, for The Guardian on Sunday 3rd July 2011 19.37 UTC

England face “the Barcelona of women’s football” in Augsburg on Tuesday needing a point to secure their progress into the quarter-finals. Japan’s brand of technical tiki-taka has already proved too much for New Zealand and particularly Mexico, who were hammered 4-0, but Hope Powell’s side feel a high-tempo in-your-face attitude can bring rewards.

“I think they’re a great footballing side,” said the England left-back Rachel Unitt of the side who top Group B. “They play short, sharp stuff which is great to watch. Our plan is to get tight, the main thing is reduce the gaps between them, to press them and give them a bit of a kick. I don’t think they like the physical battle. We know what we’re up against and hopefully we can pull it off on the day.”

It was the New Zealand coach, Jon Herdman, who made the Catalan comparisons before the tournament, and thus far Japan have dominated possession like no other side at the tournament. But in the final half‑hour against Herdman’s team England finally seemed to find their groove.

“About time, eh?” said Unitt, whose side came from 1-0 down in Dresden to claim a crucial victory. “We played the US and Sweden before we got out here and played really well, then we got out here and I don’t really know what it was, maybe nerves got the better of us.

“The second game again started slowly but we always knew we could come back and get a result. I don’t think we played too pretty against New Zealand, we got the two goals from two crosses and picking up the loose balls.

“We’ll learn from it. With us we seem to, if we’re the underdogs we tend to play well and get a result but if we’re expected to win sometimes we seem to struggle to deal with that, so we need to learn how to deal with it. Against Japan we go into the game as underdogs – they’re ranked fourth and we’re 10th. We’ve watched them and they’re a great side.”

While a draw would be sufficient to see England through as group runners‑up, victory would mean top spot and a tie against the second-placed side in Group A. That could yet be the host nation and pre‑tournament favourites Germany – who have spluttered somewhat and need to beat France in their final group game to take top spot. Whatever the outcome, however, England’s place as underdogs is pretty much assured for the rest of the tournament. And maybe that is no bad thing.

“We’re going to play France or Germany – I don’t think we’ve ever beaten either of them – so whoever we play is going to be a tough game,” Unitt said. “It would definitely help to top the group, not just for us but for the other teams we’ll be going on to face in the next round. It would give us a bit of confidence, a bit of an edge.”

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