(Reuters) – Japan’s compactness and technical ability have made them the toughest team to face in the SheBelieves Cup, England women’s coach Phil Neville said ahead of the tournament decider between the two sides later on Tuesday in Tampa.
Japan and England are top of the standings after two games, tied on four points apiece, with the Asian side ahead on goal difference. Japan are ranked eighth in the world while England are fourth.
“I think it will be our toughest game. I think they’ve been the best team in the competition so far,” Neville told reporters.
“They’ve got a brilliant system, technical players and they’ve been a real surprise in terms of the quality. They were a team in the Tournament of Nations that I thought were a little bit wide open and looked like you could get at them.
“But they’ve obviously been working really hard on the shape, the compactness. They’re technical players that never give the ball away.”
England’s players will certainly be familiar with their opposition as it was Japan who denied the Lionesses in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup, with the Asian side winning 2-1 in Edmonton, Canada.
Tuesday’s showdown will also be a rehearsal of their World Cup meeting in June, when the two teams could be battling to see who will top Group D.
Neville said he would make “five or six or seven changes” to the side that drew 2-2 with world champions the United States as he looks to improve the side ahead of the tournament in France. Goalkeeper Carly Telford is set to return to the starting lineup.
“We want to win the competition but we have to look at the bigger picture. I don’t want to get to the World Cup with any unanswered questions,” Neville added.
“The challenge now is to finish the tournament well, now is the time when winners step up. I think we’re probably nowhere near our full potential yet, there’s still scope for improvement.”
The World Cup will be held from June 7-July 7 in France.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)