England head coach Phil Neville says the emphasis is always on winning but the style his team play is “non-negotiable” as the Lionesses now prepare for knockout football after three wins from three in Group D.
An Ellen White goal in either half ensured England ended the group stage with a 100 percent record but they were made to work for it on a night in which Japan wasted their fair share of good opportunities.
Neville admitted post-match his side “didn’t have the control we wanted” as England, not for the first time, looked fatigued in the second half after a solid opening 45 minutes.
“When we get to that last 16, it’s about winning, we place an emphasis on that,” said Neville. “We were so open and fatigued in the second half that we got exposed a bit. The style is non-negotiable, we have to play a certain style. We played well for 90 minutes against Argentina, 78 minutes against Scotland, and today there were glimpses.
“We didn’t have the control we wanted. I thought we were on top in the second half and then sat off and camped in. It’s another win and a clean sheet. We are where we want to be, ready to attack the business end of the tournament. There was a team that play good football and one that knew how to win.”
Neville made eight changes from the 1–0 win against Argentina with only Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, and Jill Scott keeping their places, and the head coach admitted his side did lose some rhythm in their play due to the rotation.
“Sometimes when you make more than five changes, you suffer with that flow. But three of them tonight hadn’t played 90 minutes for some time and needed that. We knew that we would suffer but it was a game we needed to have to keep us focused.”
Neville and his side will have to wait another 24 hours to find out which side they’ll face in Valenciennes on Sunday, not leaving a lot of preparation time for Neville to decide his best team to face their next opponents.
“I think what we’ve done is profile every player,” he said. “It depends on who we’re playing. This was the strongest team to play against Japan. Certain players are experts in certain games. We’ll find out who we are playing and decide how to beat them. This is what rotation is about, not throwing 23 names into a hat and taking out 11.
“China are a good team. We’re well-equipped to play New Zealand because we played them three weeks ago. Cameroon are probably the unknown quantity, but we’ll wait until tomorrow and not count our chickens. It’s a quick turnaround now, just three days.”
Japan did create a number of good opportunities, some through their own incisive passing play and some of England’s own making when playing out from the back, but the closest they came to scoring was a first half free kick that Karen Bardsley brilliantly tipped onto the bar.
England’s opener came when Georgia Stanway, making her first major tournament start, slipped in White for her first of the evening, and Neville reserved praise for his players, particularly the Manchester City duo.
“It was a similar game to SheBelieves,” he said. “I wanted us to play counterattack football. Three or four players looked fatigued, I felt we had to bring Nikita Parris and Karen Carney on. They made the second goal and we needed that, but I felt we could have passed the ball better.
“Their keeper made some great saves but Karen Bardsley is showing she’s in the top three goalkeepers at this World Cup. Georgia’s incredible, she’s so young. I put her on versuse the USA at SheBelieves and she played like it was a kickabout in the park with her friends. She was the one who looked to be enjoying it with a big smile. If she keeps her feet on the ground, she is going to be one of the best players in world football.”