Two goals by Ellen White on Wednesday saw England beat Japan 2-0 and secure top spot in their group at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but Scotland were eliminated from the tournament in dramatic, heartbreaking fashion.
England were already through to the last 16 before facing former winners Japan in Nice, yet White’s double allowed them to clinch first place in Group D with a maximum of nine points.
Georgia Stanway released White to slot home the opener in the 14th minute and she wrapped up the win six minutes from time with a clinical first-time finish from Karen Carney’s pass.
The result allowed England to gain a measure of revenge for their agonizing 2-1 defeat against the same opponents in the semi-finals four years ago.
“We’ve got another clean sheet, we’ve won another game, we’ve played three and won three, and we’re just where we want to be, in the last 16, and ready to attack the business end of the tournament,” England coach Phil Neville said.
His side were deserving winners, despite Neville making eight changes following a 1-0 win over Argentina on Friday last week, with White among the players returning.
“When you make more than five [changes] you suffer with the rhythm and the flow, and I think we did that tonight,” he said. “We knew at times we were going to suffer, but I think it was a game we needed to have to keep us focused.”
England are now to head to Valenciennes in northern France for a last-16 tie on Sunday against a third-placed side.
They would not know their opponents until late yesterday, with China, Cameroon, New Zealand, Chile and even Thailand all potential opponents.
The permutations are less complicated for Japan, but the Nadeshiko — World Cup winners in 2011 and runners-up in 2015 — will have a stiffer-looking test in Rennes, France, against either the Netherlands or Canada.
Asako Takakura’s youthful team finished the group phase with just one win and another run to the final appears a long shot at this stage.
“I wanted to rest some of my players, so I rotated the squad. Now we need to come together and prepare for the next match,” Takakura said.
Scotland looked to be going through as one of the best third-placed sides when Erin Cuthbert’s 69th minute goal put them 3-0 up against Argentina at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
Added to earlier strikes by Kim Little and Jen Beattie, it seemed to have assured a first win at their debut World Cup, along with progress to the knockout phase, something the nation’s men’s team have never managed.
However, Milagros Menendez replied with Argentina’s first goal of the tournament in the 74th minute and then Florencia Bonsegundo’s shot went in off goalkeeper Lee Alexander to set up a tense finale.
With two minutes left and after an agonizing video assistant referee (VAR) review, Argentina were handed a penalty. Alexander saved Bonsegundo’s tame first effort, but VAR caught the goalkeeper straying off her line and the Argentine converted her second effort in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
The draw left Scotland on one point, bottom of Group D and eliminated.
“We gave it our all for 70 minutes of the game. We were very good, but we didn’t manage to see the game out, but at this moment in time we feel hard done by,” disconsolate Scotland coach Shelley Kerr said.
“There were certainly a few decisions again that didn’t go our way,” Kerr said. “This is a World Cup and you need the officials to make the right calls. It is really bitterly disappointing.”
Argentina have two points and can only advance as one of the four best third-place finishers if yesterday’s final group games between Cameroon and New Zealand in Group E and Chile and Thailand in Group F both end in draws.
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