Ellen White scored her third goal at the Tokyo Olympics as a patient チームGB ensured their passage to the knockout stage with a 1-0 defeat of hosts Japan.
The win means Team GB go into their final game of Group E against Canada needing a draw to top the group, while defeat would ensure they finish second behind their opponents.
Head coach Hege Riise shifted things around to attempt to combat the technical strength of 日本. In came Arsenal centre-back Leah Williamson for Chelsea’s Millie Bright, with the former much more comfortable with the ball at her feet. Sophie Ingle, Team GB’s sole Welsh representative, was brought in alongside Keira Walsh as part of a midfield two in a 4-2-3-1 to try and give Team GB the edge in central areas.
The effect though was to narrow the play of Riise’s team. The potent width and smart link-up play between the midfield and forward lines that had been so effective in a 4-3-3 against Chile on Wednesday was stifled by a combination of a disarmingly solid performance by the Japanese full-backs. They forced Lauren Hemp, Nikita Parris (starting in place of Georgia Stanway) and the overlapping Lucy Bronze inside repeatedly – and isolated of Kim Little with the two sitting midfielders.
Instead it was the wide play of the hosts that looked the more threatening. With the 20-year-old Hemp struggling to track back, her Manchester City teammate Demi Stokes was run ragged by midfield pair Yuzuho Shiokoshi and Emi Nakajima on the left.
日本, あまりにも, had made a host of changes to the team that laboured to a 1-1 draw with Canada in their opening game. Five players made way including, somewhat surprisingly, goalscorer and new Arsenal signing Mana Iwabuchi.
In a tactical match, with each team trying to out-strategise the other, the host nation had the edge over their opponents in the first half and by the half-hour mark Team GB found themselves increasingly pressed back. A delightful bursting run from Hemp before she was fouled offered some respite to the pressure and time to regroup.
Frustrated but focused, Riise’s side emerged after the break with renewed purpose but it was short-lived until the introduction of Caroline Weir for Ingle, and a restoration of the midfield three that impressed in the opener, on the hour.
With the added impetus of Scotland’s Weir on the pitch Team GB went on the hunt. Again the source of the breakthrough was familiar. Little, now seeing more of the ball, played to an overlapping Bronze whose cross found White to head in.
Riise will now have the luxury of resting some weary legs in the final group game, a huge boost given the tight schedule of the Games.