LONDON - England insists it will not be seeking revenge for its heartbreaking defeat to Japan at the last Women’s World Cup when the teams meet at this year’s tournament, but it believes Japanese players will fear it more this time.
Japan knocked England out in the semifinals four years ago, and the sides will clash in a fourth consecutive World Cup in their final Group D game on June 19 in Nice, France.
“Everybody thinks it’s a bit of a crunch game, and it’s about revenge, but we respect Japan and they’re a very good footballing side,” said England captain Steph Houghton at her team’s pre-World Cup media day at St. George’s Park in Burton upon Trent.
“The only thing that I’ve got on my mind is winning the game of football. It’s not about revenge. It’s about playing a very good side and being in a position to play the best football that we can.”
Japan sent England home from Canada in 2015 after an injury-time own goal by Laura Bassett gave it a 2-1 win, a result that Lionesses midfielder Jade Moore described before the upcoming tournament as “devastating” and “cruel.”
However, England has improved dramatically in recent years and finds itself in the unusual position of being higher ranked, in third place, than Japan, which is seventh.
“Usually when you think of Japan you think, ‘Oh dear, that’s going to be a hard game, a technical game, ‘” said Moore. “But now with all these bigger teams who have always been ranked above us, our mind-set has changed.”
“People fear us now, rather than the other way around, and that is a really privileged place to be, especially coming into a World Cup. So I think Japan will probably fear us more than we will fear them, this time around.”
England beat Japan 3-0 to win the SheBelieves Cup, a four-team tournament in the United States also featuring the host nation and Brazil, in March. But England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley does not believe Japan was at full strength at that tournament and will prove a much tougher opponent at the World Cup.
“My previous experience against Japan is that they are an incredibly talented side with tremendous depth and technical skill,” said Bardsley, who played against Japan at the 2011 World Cup.
“By no means are we going to take anything for granted. We played them in the She Believes and I feel that they deliberately played a weakened squad, so we know they definitely will be much stronger come the group stages (and) we have the utmost respect for them.”
Bardsley and England forward Ellen White highlighted Lyon defensive midfielder Saki Kumagai as a key player for Japan, and the England players, in general, were generous with their praise for Japan.
“I love playing against Japan, I love their style of football,” said White. “To play against such an incredible nation, it is always very competitive and those games are always really exciting and we are really looking forward to facing them again.”
White scored England’s first goal in its 2-0 group match win over Japan at the 2011 World Cup, which Japan went on to win.
“It was special as I could say I scored against the world champions,” she said.
“That was an amazing achievement for Japan, but I was quite proud to have scored against them in that tournament.”
England’s veteran midfielder Jill Scott played against Japan at the 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups, with the semifinal defeat four years ago the one that most sticks in her mind.
“It was a cruel way to go out, a last-minute own goal, but I am so proud of how we picked ourselves up and beat Germany to win the bronze,” she said.
“We have all experienced defeat and we want to use that to spur us on. Japan are a very difficult team and when they won it in 2011 we were the only team to beat them. They are fantastic, technically, tactically, and we know we’re going to have to be on the top of our game,” Scott added.