Great Britain 1–0 Japan
By Ben Gilby
Team GB gained the win which guarantees their place in the Quarter-Finals after victory in a tight game against Japan in Sapporo (Ellen White pictured above celebrating her goal by Getty Images).
Great Britain brought in Demi Stokes and Leah Williamson in defence in place of Millie Bright and Rachel Daly in a planned change by boss Hege Riise.
There were two other changes with Caroline Weir and Georgia Stanway dropping down to the bench with Sophie Ingle and Nikita Parris coming in.
Japan made the headline change of bringing Mina Tanaka in for Arsenal’s new signing Mana Iwabuchi, who averages a goal virtually every other game for her country.
Team GB started on the front foot with Kim Little pulling the strings and being involved in the majority of the play in their front third during this period.
Japan gained a chance when Hina Sugita beat Lucy Bronze who responded by diving in to concede a free kick on the edge of the left hand side of the box but Houghton headed clear.
On the eighteen minute mark, Great Britain pushed numbers forward with Bronze linking with Ellen White who had a shot deflected into the path of Ingle who earned a corner for her side.
Clear goal scoring opportunities were few and far between with both teams working hard to nullify their opponent’s offensive threats. The hosts were looking to particularly target the flanks of Great Britain with varying degrees of success.
With 33 minutes gone, there was a worrying moment in the Great Britain defence as they stood off and allowed Tanaka to get a shot in which was narrowly wide of Roebuck’s left hand post.
With the half progressing towards its final stages, Team GB’s sorties forward became rarer as Japan organised themselves to get several defenders around any British threat to nullify it at source.
This had the additional benefit for the host nation of ensuring that they began to gather more possession, connected to a deliberate ploy to hold onto it, patiently waiting for the right moment to pounce.
With neither side being able to produce anything consistently dangerous going forward, the half time goal-less score line was not unexpected.
Great Britain started the second half more energised with Parris buzzing around down the right and forcing an early corner, but Japan cleared with ease and Yui Hasegawa brought the ball away on the counter.
Shortly afterwards, Sugita was allowed to advance all the way down the left and play a ball in which the Team GB defence recovered to clear.
Japan maintained their good organisation and hard work off the ball which continued to restrict chances for Great Britain.
Into the last twenty minutes, Keira Walsh let fly from outside of the box and the shot was deflected for a corner which was well held by Ayaka Yamashita in the Japanese goal.
Throughout the encounter, it was apparent that Great Britain were failing to take advantage of Japan’s long term problems in the air, particularly from set pieces as, instead of going high for the likes of White consistently, they remained tied to playing the ball on the surface. This inability to develop a flexible approach to what was in front of them may come back to haunt Team GB later in the competition.
Ironically, one of the few times that Great Britain did go with the high ball into the box, it resulted in a goal after 74 minutes. Little’s hard work by the corner flag led to her playing the ball back to Bronze. The Manchester City star’s lofted ball in was met by a flick header from White which was poorly managed in the air by Yamashita and Team GB were ahead.
Japan couldn’t raise themselves to force Ellie Roebuck into making saves after White’s goal and they now face a must win game against Chile in order to take third place in the group which would keep hopes of a place in the knock-out stages alive.
Hege Riise’s team will need to work on consistent accuracy of passing, as well as a more flexible tactical approach but, ultimately they have maximum points from their opening two games and have the knock-out stages to look ahead to. At the end of the day, that is all that matters right now.
Teams: JAPAN: Yamashita, Shimizu, Kumagai, Minami, Miyagawa, Shiokoshi, Nakajima, Hayashi, Sugita, Hasegawa, Tanaka. Subs: Ikeda (GK), Takarada, Miura, Sugasawa, Iwabuchi, Endo, Momiki.
GREAT BRITAIN: Roebuck, Bronze, Stokes, Walsh, Houghton, Ingle, Parris, Little, White, Hemp, Williamson. Subs: Weir, Daly, Telford (GK), Bright, Stanway, Scott, Charles.
Scorer: White 74.
Referee: Anastasia Pustovoytova (RUS)