England Lionesses took on Japan last night in their final game of the SheBelieves Cup. A fixture full of rich history saw a new lease of life given to it as England gave a star-studded performance.
An experimental England side went up against an inexperienced Japan side in the winner-takes-all clash.
Up against one of the best teams in the world, England had to bring their A game.
And, after not performing in the first half for their previous two games, England finally showed up in the opening 45.
The Lionesses showed immense quality in an exciting half of football to go in at the break 3-0 up with one hand on the trophy.
It didn’t take long for Neville’s side to get in control of the game.
Birmingham’s Lucy Staniforth got the opening goal thanks to a clever reverse pass from Jodie Taylor.
Perhaps the strongest performer of the half, Taylor, then went on to register her second assist of the half. This time it was for Karen Carney, who met Taylor’s cross with her head to give England a two-goal lead.
England got their third just before half time thanks to Beth Mead who latched onto what was arguably the pass of the tournament from Keira Walsh.
Despite a more promising second half from the Japanese side, the damage had already been done.
A dazzling first-half display
Manager Phil Neville made eight changes to the side who took on the World Champions on Saturday night.
Only Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, and Walsh retained their place in the starting XI.
They are also the only three players to have started all three games of the tournament. Meanwhile, Staniforth, Taylor, and Williamson all started their first game of the tournament.
Having watched the last two England displays, there were little expectations for the first half.
However, Neville’s side delivered their performance of the tournament in the opening 45 minutes.
Jodie Taylor seized her opportunity and got two assists before eventually being substituted early on in the second half.
The first of those assists came early on when her reverse pass found Staniforth on the edge of the area. The Birmingham midfielder then set herself to curl the ball around the defenders and slot it into the bottom corner.
Not long after, Taylor put a peach of a cross into the box which was happily met by the head of fellow attacker Carney.
England just made it look so easy, and added another goal a few minutes later.
It was the goal of the game and featured the pass of the tournament by a clear mile.
Walsh, from deep in her own half, sprayed the ball forward and it tore through the Japanese defence, landing right at the feet of Beth Mead.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) March 5, 2019
Mead then went on a twisting run into the Japan area before firing home and giving England a 3-0. Rest assured, there’s no debate as to whether or not this goal was a cross.
England see it out
The second half was, by no means, an easy 45 minutes for Neville’s side. Two Japanese substitutes turned the game right around and pulled Japan back into it.
Neville and England saw glimpses of what a Japan side they’re more likely to face at the World Cup in the summer.
They were fast, technical and dominating in the second half – a world away from that first half performance.
Japan had more than enough attempts on goal to bring this tie back but lacked that clinical edge. But unfortunately for Japan, England were clinical enough and got the job done.
Not only did the Lionesses deliver an exciting attacking performance, but they also stood solid defensively.
Neville will be delighted with the performance of his side – and may even have an idea as to who he’ll be taking to France this summer.
But for now, attention turns to the fixtures in the final run of to the World Cup. The first of those will be against Canada, April 5th.
Written by Courtney Hill (@cjhsport)