England Lionesses to face Japan in SheBelieves Cup finale

England Lionesses

In the final match of the SheBelieves Cup, England Lionesses will take on Japan in a winner-takes-all clash to decide the winners. Nerve Sport previews the upcoming fixture and what we can expect from England. 

After two games, both teams find themselves on the same number of points.

The last time these two faced off was in the 2015 World Cup semi-final in which Japan won 2-1 thanks to a late own goal. (sorry Laura Bassett!)

Even though the Lionesses have shown significant improvement since the last time the two met, so have Japan.

The Japanese team is technically one of the best in the world and their attacking threat could be a big problem for an England side who tend to switch off in the first half.

England’s inspired comeback against Brazil and fight to hold the World Champions USA has left them below Japan on goal difference.

Meanwhile, Japan’s unexpected draw against USA and sweeping of Brazil puts them top of the table.

With both sides on four points, the winner of tonight’s match will take home the SheBelieves Cup ahead of the World Cup in the summer.

However, should there fail to be a winn for either side in this game it could see the USA win the trophy. The number one ranked team currently sit in third on two points after two draws.

But, a win against Brazil would take them to five points – meaning the cup could be decided on goal difference.

Biggest test yet

No one knew what to expect of Japan coming into this tournament, but it’s safe to say all expectations have been exceeded.

In the 2015 World Cup final, the USA wiped the floor with the then Japanese team.

Given that they made a sensational comeback to draw with them in their first game of the SBC is a testament to how far they’ve come in the last three years.

But it was their last game against Brazil where they showcased their attacking prowess and introduced themselves to the big stage.

As a result, boss Phil Neville has dubbed this England’s “toughest game” of the tournament, in an interview with the Telegraph.

His side can’t afford to wait for a wake-up call to start performing, as they’ve done in the previous two games setting them back.

While the SheBelieves trophy is on the line, though, many England players could be using that 2015 World Cup loss to Japan as motivation to go out and beat them.

It’s been shown in the past that the Lionesses can sometimes struggle against technically very good sides with a disciplined set-up – tonight’s game will be a huge test of their character. Tactically, Neville will have to be spot on if he’s going to outsmart and outplay this Japan side.

Team changes 

In a post-match interview after the USA game, Neville revealed he’ll be looking to make five or six changes for tonight’s game. He hopes to feature many of the players who haven’t played yet – or have only played some minutes here and there.

This could see the return of Chelsea goalkeeper Carly Telford, who featured in the first game against Brazil.

Valued for her speed of play and quick distribution, she’s key in how England want to play out from the back.

But perhaps the most exciting prospect of the evening could be the potential starting place handed to Georgia Stanway.

The Manchester City youngster is in the form of her life at the minute and proves a damaging goal threat for her club.

Stanway enjoys playing on the last defender and latching onto balls over the top or through the middle. This style of play could see an international partnership blossom with City teammate Keira Walsh.

21-year-old Walsh has started and finished both games of the tournament so far and with England thin on midfield options, could do the same for the final game.

However, little midfield options or not doesn’t take away from the fact she’s had the tournament of her life over the last week.

While she started quietly against Brazil (in fairness, so did the entire team), she stood tall and put in a player of the match performance against America. Which, against a midfield three, isn’t all that easy to do.

Walsh’s ability to operate as a free-flowing deep-lying midfielder while simultaneously being able to pick a pass from just about anywhere makes her a valued asset to this side.

This will ultimately be a huge test for Neville and his England side.

It will also allow us to see the quality of sqaud depth the Lionesses have, given that it’s expected many of the first team won’t start.

The game will be live on BBC Four and kicks off at 10.15 pm.

Written by Courtney Hill (@cjhsport)