With two wins from two, England’s Lionesses can go into their game against Japan on Wednesday knowing that they have already done enough to secure qualification through to the World Cup round of 16. Although not a must-win game, it is pivotal that England put in a convincing performance against a strong Japan side in order to continue their momentum into the knock-out stages and assert themselves as serious contenders for the tournament.
After a fast-paced start against Scotland in their first game, England looked comparatively lacklustre in the second, allowing The Scots to gain a strong foothold in the game. Despite their first three points on the board, Lionesses manager Phil Neville made it clear that the standard of performance in the second half came no way near to what is expected of a team currently ranked third in the world.
The Lionesses approached the game with Argentina on Wednesday knowing that they had to put in a superior performance. Despite some sublime Argentinian goalkeeping and a couple of near misses, notably Nikita Parris from the penalty spot in the first half, England came through as deserved winners. It took until just after the hour mark for Jodie Taylor to dispatch her first goal of the tournament; a superbly-worked break out from the back which resulted in an inch-perfect cross from winger Beth Mead, leaving Taylor with the job of side-footing the ball into the net.
With most teams in the tournament having only played two group games thus far, it is still early to suggest a clear front runner for the tournament; however, it is clear for all to see that the USA have arrived with supreme confidence and a ruthlessness which has long been synonymous with their Women’s National Team.
They completed an emphatic 13-0 win against Thailand and finished their week off with a 3-0 win against Chile, a respectable score-line owing to sublime goalkeeping from the Chilean captain Christiane Endler. With the USA having already used all 18 of their outfield players after just two games, it is clear for all to see the sheer depth of talent that the USA possess in their ranks.
The FIFA ranked number one team in the world remain as strong favorites for the tournament, yet they have not yet been tested defensively in any shape or form thus far. Moving deeper into the knock-out stages, it will be intriguing to see how they adapt against teams with a more potent attacking threat.
The home nation of France, also amongst the favorites to lift the Cup, have put in several strong performances beating both South Korea and Norway. With the realistic expectation that both France and USA top their individual groups and progress through the round of 16, it would set up a mouth-watering Quarter-final between these two heavyweights.
Are there performances so far enough to suggest that The Lionesses can go all the way and win the tournament? Probably not just yet. But we are only two games into a tournament, and The Lionesses are a side that builds on momentum. From the quality that they possess within their squad and off the back of their recent performances earlier in the year, notably clinching the She Believes Cup off of the defending champions USA in March 2019, there is nothing to suggest that Phil Neville and his side cannot go all the way to the final in Paris if they can quickly re-discover a similar vein of world-beating form, of which they are more than capable.
By Nell Boxall