Tonight marks an historic night in the female English game. The Lionesses have made it past the last 16 stage of a World Cup for the first time, managing to go even further and into their maiden semi-final. Only the reigning champions, Japan, stand in their way of becoming only the second England team to reach a World Cup final. Can they make it all the way and join USA in Vancouver? Here’s a preview of the Lionesses semi final match.
Nickname: The Lionesses
Manager: Mark Sampson
Captain: Steph Houghton
England started off with a disappointing loss to France and caused the standard national deflation. A lack of commitment, desire to play for the shirt and tournament mentality meant another dismal campaign was looming. However, two stoic performances against Mexico and Colombia allowed the Lionesses to progress into the knockout stages. Norway and a piece of history awaited in the last 16 with a Lucy Bronze screamer sealing progression. The home nation provided a sterner test although England grabbed two early goals to combat the tribal crowd support. Although Canada enjoyed 63% possession and stole a goal, England were not too troubled and soaked up the pressure to secure their place in the final four.
Tactics have been a hot topic of discussion during the tournament. Sampson is the Claudio Ranieri of women’s football, tinkering with his team religiously. The starting line-up has changed for every game, either showing a tactical appreciation or level of uncertainty. Although Sampson has been praised for his decisions so far, I have been underwhelmed.
The defensive and negative style he has employed so far, can work for a certain amount of time but cannot win a tournament. They will be tested by Japan and cannot sit on the backfoot waiting for a chance. They must impose themselves on the game. Duggan and Aluko have been underused and wasted, their explosiveness off the bench could have really opened up the pitch more.
Equally, Karen Bardsley’s position as number 1 must be questioned. Two blunders caused two goals against Norway and Canada. In Telford and Chamberlain there are two able deputies who may feel aggrieved with their lack of opportunities. The decision may be taken out of Sampson’s hands though after Bardsley suffered a mysterious allergic reaction against Canada. It is unclear whether she will start tonight, only time will tell.
Star Performer: Lucy Bronze
Although only 23 years old, the Manchester City defender has scored two vital goals in the knockout stages to steer England through. She has defended superbly, showing composure and athleticism which will be needed against Japan. The World Champions use quick passing and wing play to sithe through defences. Bronze will have to be on top form to keep the likes of Sugasawa and Ogimi at bay.
Nickname: Nadeshiko (Large Pink Flower)
Manager: Norio Sasaki
Captain: Aya Miyama
The defending champions are undefeated in the tournament so far. They topped Group C, only conceding one goal and performing consistently. Switzerland and Cameroon provided a weak test with early goals seeing Japan through. A goal in the 5th minute against Ecuador appeared to signal a thrashing was on the cards. The South Americans had been beaten 6-0 by Cameroon and 10-1 by Switzerland previously. However, the Japanese could not add to their tally which may provide encouragement for the Lionesses.
Holland were dispatched with relative ease although it took 87 minutes for Japan to break down a weak Australia after dominating throughout. They will need to step up if they are going to progress any further. The England team have much more talent than their Southern hemisphere colleagues.
Although they struggled to get the ball in the back of the net against Australia they played some magnificent football. As their nickname suggests (an elegant pink flower), the free-flowing tika-taka football has at times been mesmerising. Their finishing though, has left a lot to be desired. They will need to take any chance they get against the Lionesses, the England set up designed to concede few and soak up pressure. Japan do possess players with a creative edge that England lack. The Japanese team is full of playmakers such as Ohno and Sakaguchi who can tear defences to shreds. This will be a test of flair versus determination.
Star Performer: Aya Miyama
The captain of the side is second on Japan’s all-time appearances list with a staggering 151 caps at the age of just 30. The Okayama Yungo Belle winger is also 5th on the all-time goalscorers list, exemplifying her attacking talent. She has scored one and assisted two so far in Canada and will look to add to that tally. Miyama has provided a serious threat in the tournament and will attempt to utilise her vast experience against the young Bronze. She is definitely one to watch out for.
Overall, this is going to be a fantastic encounter. Japan have to be the favourites, their talent and history demand that, but England have a great chance. Anything can happen in football and this match will be no different. My heart is telling me one thing, my brain another. So here’s my prediction:
England 1 : 2 Japan