Women's World Cup semi-final: Japan v England - key battles

Women's World Cup semi-final: Japan v England
Venue: Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, Canada Date: Thursday, 2 July Kick-off: 00:00 BST Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Sport website
Repeat: Available on the iPlayer and Red Button from 08:00 BST

England have reached uncharted territory at the Women's World Cup and to make it to the final they must beat holders Japan, who have not lost a game so far in Canada.

Having reached the semi-finals for the first time, Mark Sampson's Lionesses come up against a side who are technically gifted and are known to pass their opponents to submission.

Nicknamed 'Nadeshiko' after the pink plant that is used to personify the attributes of an ideal Japanese woman - neatness, resilience and loyalty, Japan are ranked two places above sixth-placed England in Fifa's world rankings.

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Women's World Cup archive: England beat Japan in 2011

But England can draw some confidence from the fact that they beat Japan in the group stages of the 2011 World Cup and have never lost in three matches against them.

Sampson has told his players to "seize the moment" on Thursday against the runners-up from the 2012 Olympics.

So, how do the two teams match up?

Japan v England head to head

Tactics

Often likened to Barcelona for their playing style, Japan are led by head coach Norio Sasaki, who ramped up the pre-match rhetoric by saying his players are "superior" to England's and that he is "over-confident" for the game.

It is certainly true they have the ability to out-pass England, who have had inferior possession in three of their five games.

Mark Sampson and Norio Sasaki
England and Japan are meeting for the third time at the World Cup and the third tournament in succession

Worryingly for the underdogs, Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu says there is more to come from her side.

Sampson, whose side have been more direct at the World Cup, conceded that Japan can cause his side problems in small spaces but has drawn plaudits for his adaptability during the tournament.

He has also caused some confusion with his tactics among Japanese players, who describe England's style as "weird".

That will be a boost to the 32-year-old Welshman, who likes to keep opponents guessing and has defended his use of set-piece goals. He says the match will be a "contrast in styles".

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"This game won't be about who dictates territory, who dictates possession, or who has most shots on goal. It's about when you get your chance, taking it," Sampson said.

"This team has prepared for those moments when we need to be clinical."

Key battles

Lucy Bronze v Aya Miyama

Arguably, a clash between the best players on either side at this tournament. Bronze, 23, has been hailed for her two goals in England's knockout games, but says she has had enough of scoring and wants to concentrate on defending, at which she has also excelled.

In 30-year-old Japan captain Miyama, the England right-back will have her toughest test yet. Not only does the left-side midfielder have a goal and two assists this tournament, she has clever movement and quite often drops inside, leaving Bronze with a tough choice of whether to follow.

Jodie Taylor v Azuzu Iwashimizu

Taylor's goal in the quarter-final win over Canada came courtesy of a gift from defender Lauren Sesselmann but the 29-year-old striker can expect no similar generosity this time from 28-year-old defender Azuzui Iwashimizu.

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Women's World Cup 2015 highlights: England 2-1 Canada

Taylor, who has returned from recent knee surgery, can cause problems with her pace and strong running with England looking to set her free as soon as possible.

But Iwashimizu is well aware of the threat. "Their long straight passes are high in quality," she said. "So we need to handle that well defensively."

Iwashimizu will also look to get forward from set-pieces and has been crucial to a Japanese defence that has conceded only two goals at the tournament.

Laura Bassett v Yuki Ogimi

Bassett has revelled in her role alongside captain Steph Houghton in the heart of the England defence, with the skipper saying the pair have enjoyed putting their bodies on the line and defending their 18-yard box.

With Japan so confident in possession, that may be their start and end point in the match. Bassett, 31, is not blessed with pace but has been a rock at the back and will be detailed to follow forward Ogimi, who she will know from their time together at Chelsea in the 2014 season.

England women poster

Ogimi, 27, who is now at German side Wolfsburg, likes to drop off the front-line to exchange passes with her team-mates. So Bassett will have to ensure she instructs midfielders Fara Williams and Katie Chapman to make sure she does not get drawn from England's tight backline.

Key England stats

  • Mark Sampson has used 22 of his 23 players at the tournament - goalkeeper Carly Telford is the only player yet to feature.
  • Captain Steph Houghton is the only England player to play every minute at the tournament.
  • Have won four consecutive World Cup matches for the first time (all have been 2-1).
  • Last five wins have been by a 2-1 scoreline and last six by a single goal - 2-1 v Canada, 2-1 v Norway, 2-1 v Colombia, 2-1 v Mexico, 2-1 v China and 1-0 v Canada.
  • Last won by more than a single goal with 3-0 against Australia at Cyprus Cup on 6 March.
  • Have kept just two clean sheets in 12 matches in 2015 (v Canada and Australia in March).

Key Japan stats

  • Their only previous World Cup semi-final was the 3-1 win v Sweden in Frankfurt in 2011.
  • All 23 Japan players have featured at the 2015 World Cup, with Aya Miyama and Yuki Ogimi playing every minute.
  • All seven goals at the 2015 World Cup have been scored by different players.
  • Have won all five matches at the 2015 World Cup and all by a single goal.
  • Won all three of their group-stage matches for the first time.
  • On their best unbeaten run at the World Cup, eight matches without defeat. Last defeat was 2-0 v England in final group stage game of 2011.
  • Won last eight matches since 3-1 Algarve Cup defeat by France on 9 March.
  • Conceded two goals in last eight matches.
  • Scored in last 18 matches since 0-0 draw v China in September 2014.
  • Have won last four World Cup matches against European opposition - 2-1 v Netherlands, 1-0 v Switzerland, 3-1 v Sweden and 1-0 v Germany.

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