England finished their Women’s World Cup Group D matches in the top spot and with a 100 per cent record after Ellen White’s brace steered them to a 2-0 win against Japan in Nice.
The Lionesses, who had already qualified for the last 16 and needed to avoid defeat to win the group, went ahead just before the quarter-hour mark through White’s cool finish following good work by Georgia Stanway.
White then slotted in her second, and third of the tournament, with six minutes of normal time remaining having been teed up by substitute Karen Carney.
Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita made a number of fine saves during the contest at the Allianz Riviera after her counterpart Karen Bardsley had done well to tip a Kumi Yokoyama free-kick onto the bar in the ninth minute.
Phil Neville’s England will now face a third-place finisher in the next round – either China (Group B), or Cameroon or New Zealand (Group E) or Chile or Thailand (Group F).
Their opponents will be determined on Thursday when Groups E and F conclude, and the match will take place on Sunday in Valenciennes.
Having stressed in the build-up that he wanted to win the match and would pick his “best team” to achieve that, Neville made eight changes to his starting XI from the 1-0 win against Argentina five days earlier.
That included bringing fit-again forward Toni Duggan into the attack, along with White and Rachel Daly, as Beth Mead, Jodie Taylor – the goalscorer against Argentina – and Nikita Parris dropped out.
Japan, World Cup winners in 2011 and semi-final victors over England en route to finishing as runners-up in 2015, threatened early on through Yokoyama as the forward sent a shot over and saw a free-kick heading for the top corner superbly touched on to the bar by Bardsley.
England then grabbed the lead in the 14th minute when Stanway turned Hina Sugita and held her off to play an excellent through-ball to White, who deftly lifted an effort past Yamashita and into the bottom corner.
With Neville’s side remaining on the front foot, Yamashita made two good saves soon after as she kept out strikes from Jill Scott and Stanway, the second being particularly impressive.
Yokoyama then had a curler dealt with by Bardsley before Daly latched on to a long ball from Keira Walsh and brought another decent save out of Yamashita.
Yamashita excelled once again in the 59th minute as she pushed away Duggan’s goalbound effort.
England then survived a number of scares as Japan stepped up their search for an equaliser, with substitute Yuika Sugasawa to the fore.
Steph Houghton executed a perfectly-timed tackle in the box in the 66th minute to take the ball away from Sugasawa, who then had a shot saved by Bardsley.
Sugasawa then steered the ball into the side-netting on the stretch, before White popped up with her second goal, beating Yamashita from just inside the box as she connected with Carney’s threaded pass.
Bardsley subsequently denied Sugasawa once again before the full-time whistle, which left second-placed Japan, who had also secured last-16 qualification prior to the match, set to face Holland or Canada in the last 16.News Now - Sport News