Both England and Japan are in search of their first win in the SheBelieves Cup this evening.
With Japan falling to Spain while England was outclassed by the U.S., the pair’s hopes of securing the title are quickly dwindling.
But lucky for you, I’m back with another – yes, another – combined XI to get you through until kick-off (6:15 pm).
In a 4-3-3 (like you expected anything less) formation…
Goalkeeper: Ellie Roebuck
Get used to seeing this face because she’s not going anywhere. Though Telford had a decent game, I found it surprising not to see Roebuck between the sticks for England last time out – especially considering she’s been featured more prominently throughout the season at club level. I’d be disappointed not to see her start this evening.
Right-back: Risa Shimizu
This Japan squad is particularly young and Shimizu is among them, aged just 23 she’s already made over 30 appearances for Japan – even more impressive considering her debut was only in 2018 at the Algarve Cup. She tackles well and is difficult to beat in one-on-one situations, making her a nightmare for wingers.
Centre-back: Leah Williamson
I’ll put Georgia Stanway at right-back before you can convince me to ever put Leah there. It’s not a case of she did a bad job there against the U.S., but when you have the best English CB at your disposal it makes sense to play them, you know, at centre-back. Likelihood of this happening? Slim. But I’ll never learn, so don’t expect anyone different next time around either.
Centre-back: Saki Kumagai
If I didn’t have trust issues in defence and could put somebody else there I’d have moved Kumagai up to CDM, but after the USA game, you can see my issue there. Kumagai didn’t particularly have the best game against Spain on all accounts, but with an experienced and established defender by her side like Williamson, I’d trust that we’d see a formidable partnership in the backline.
Left-back: Demi Stokes
Oh, the sweet sense of disappointment seeing Stokes’ name on the bench when the line-up for the USA game was announced. Sure, Greenwood is arguably the better left-back going forward, but against a side who are dangerous going forward it makes sense to have the better defender, and that is Stokes. After Friday’s defensive display, I’d expect to see her versus Japan.
Centre-defensive midfielder: Keira Walsh
It’s just occurred to me I may as well be fielding a Japan x Manchester City XI here, purely a coincidence. With Kumagai back in defence and Japan favouring a 4-4-2 formation, isolating a sole CDM that has the capacity to occupy the middle of the park with ease led to the inclusion of Keira Walsh. On her day, Walsh is an undeniable talent and her ability to spray passes across the field is a joy to watch. That pass to Parris in the U.S. game was just pure magic.
Centre-midfield: Yui Hasegawa
Not to be dramatic but a midfield of Hasegawa and Nobbs would be a little bit dreamy. Hasegawa already has over 40 caps for Japan since debuting in 2017 and her game echoes that of Homare Sawa; arguably the best box-to-box midfielder the game has ever seen. Yui undoubtedly pulls the strings for Japan in the middle of the park; with an injection of pace, she can turn defence into attack effortlessly with her willingness to get forward. At just 23 she shows the undeniable potential of becoming one of the best midfielders in the world and is one of the players who is a genuine pleasure to watch on the ball. If it wasn’t already glaringly obvious, I’m a big fan.
Centre-midfield: Jordan Nobbs
It goes without saying what an incredible footballer Jordan Nobbs is, and my god did England rue keeping her on the bench on Friday. She immediately changed the game very nearly assisted Beth England when she eventually came on. Keeping your best midfielders on the bench in big games is an interesting tactic that I have no business entertaining.
Right-wing Mana Iwabuchi
Every defenders nightmare, every manager’s dream. Japan may have lost that opening game against Spain but we ALL won when we got to witness Iwabuchi’s goal. A wonderful lob over the top of a helpless Gallardo. While operating more centrally for Japan, Iwabuchi can be effective from anywhere on the field.
Forward: Bethany England
Let it be known that when the England line-up was announced on Thursday evening, Bethany England was indeed a trending topic on Twitter. Unfortunately for fans and Neville for that matter, it was because she was on the bench and not starting. In a game where Ellen White found herself isolated up top, it took 80 minutes for Neville to make the switch and, to the surprise of no-one, England was almost immediately on the scoresheet. In blistering form, it’s hard to keep her away from the XI.
Left-wing: Lauren Hemp
No disrespect to Kelley O’Hara but watching 19-year-old Lauren Hemp straight up terrorise her down the right side in the early hours of Friday morning is arguably the highlight of Phil Neville’s entire England tenure and, at this rate, very little is going to beat it. She’s tricky to play against with electrifying pace and the end product to match – had someone been on the end of her balls into the box, England might have avoided defeat (though probably not).
I have come to the conclusion that this team would be incredibly fun to watch and thus I will be tuning in later with a hint of resentment.
You can catch, uh, the first half of Japan v England on BBC Two and then the second half on BBC Four… yeah, I don’t know either.
Happy International Women’s Day!