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Women’s World Cup: England overcome Japan to top group

Chelsea Women’s Millie Bright returned to the Lionesses' starting XI and Karen Carney assisted the second goal in England's 2-0 victory against Japan in their final Group D fixture.

England have sealed the top spot of Group D courtesy of Ellen White’s brace which wrapped things up nicely in front of 14,319 fans at Stade de Nice tonight. The opening goal came after 15 minutes when the Manchester City striker calmly slotted the ball past the Japanese goalkeeper, and the second came six minutes from full-time when she finished clinically from close range.

This fixture was a repeat of the World Cup 2015 semi-final and England not only looked determined to finish the group stages with three wins but also looked to avenge their heartbreak from exiting Canada 2015 after a cruel 2-1 defeat due to a 92nd-minute Laura Bassett own-goal.

Phil Neville stuck with a 4-3-3 formation and made numerous changes from England’s narrow 1-0 victory over Argentina in the north of France. Karen Bardsley replaced Chelsea’s Carly Telford in goal, and Bright returned to the back line with Abbie McManus making way. Blues captain Karen Carney replaced Georgia Stanway with 15 minutes left to play and Fran Kirby was among the England substitutes.

Both teams began brightly but it was the Lionesses who put an early marker down when they took the lead against the 2015 World Cup finalists after 15 minutes. Stanway outmuscled her Japanese opponent and slipped a great pass through to White. The no.18 latched onto the ball and fired her shot past the advancing goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita.

Japan tried to find a response and probed at England’s defence but Bright and Steph Houghton in particular managed to weather the storm by tidying up any loose balls and distributing accordingly.

England came out the blocks quicker than their Asian opposition in the second half and the Japanese struggled to keep up with the tempo. The Lionesses’ passing was crisper and their movement without the ball was more purposeful. A good chance came for Bright when Houston Dash’s Rachel Daly burst clear down the right channel and delivered a deep ball into the box for the no.6, whose headed effort was not powerful enough to beat the Japanese goalkeeper.

With 15 minutes left on the clock Neville made a tactical change and brought Carney on for Stanway and she made an immediate impact with her superb passing ability. She fed through a pass to tee up White's and England's second goal of the night. Carney spotted space between Japan's defence and the no.18 latched onto the through ball and caught Yamashita off her line when she calmly placed her shot beyond the onrushing goalkeeper.

England will head north to Valenciennes for Sunday’s knockout game, where they will look to continue their perfect run in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. With group stage games still remaining, it is not certain who the Lionesses will face as of yet, but it could be China, Cameroon or Chile.

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