Phil Neville needs England improvement against pass masters Japan

Phil Neville needs improvement as his England side prepare to face pass masters Japan at Women’s World Cup

  • Phil Neville’s England side play Japan at the Women’s World Cup on Wednesday
  • England have won their first two games — against Scotland and Argentina
  • But they will have to improve when they take on an experienced Japanese outfit 

One L’Equipe journalist observed last week that there is a hint of what Gareth Southgate brings in the emotional intelligence with which Phil Neville is building a team spirit to sustain England in the challenging days to come.

There was an assuredness about how, in the team huddle late on Friday after the 1-0 win over Argentina, Neville referenced No 10 Fran Kirby’s loss on what would have been her late mother’s birthday. Last week, he also spoke about his own father, Neville Neville, who died four years ago while in Australia to see Tracey Neville’s England netball team play at the World Cup.

‘Good job my dad’s not here. He’d be out [socialising] with you!’ Neville told journalists on Thursday. There was a sense that the England manager dearly would have loved to have his father at the tournament.

Fran Kirby burst into tears as the emotion got the better of her following England’s victory

Neville will need his side to play with a more precise and clinical version of his preferred passing game if England are to secure the win against Japan here on Wednesday which would give them a more benign route towards the latter stages. Lose to the world’s seventh-ranked team and England could face a challenging encounter with the Dutch in Rennes. Win, and it could be one of the three third-placed teams in Valenciennes.

It was hard to agree with Neville’s description of his team as ‘outstanding’ after Friday’s win. England displayed commendable calmness and physical fitness, but the rapid passing sequences at the core of their game were infrequent.

‘We work on sequences of passes — six, seven, eight, nine passes, which mean you get control of the game,’ said Neville before the Argentina game.

The struggle to find these passes in the 2-1 opening win against Scotland saw England’s game drift to ‘stand-still’ football, as Neville described it.

‘We didn’t just pass the ball A to B to C like we practise every day of the week,’ he said. There was an element of the same against Argentina.

Paradoxically, for a team built on dominating possession and playing out from the back, it was a counter-attacking move which brought the breakthrough. A hybrid style could serve England well when the going gets tougher. Jodie Taylor, Friday’s match-winner, suits a more direct style.

The Japan side England beat 3-0 in the SheBelieves Cup in March was a deceptively experimental one, containing just a handful of the players likely to take the field on Wednesday. They are capable of passing opposition to death, as they showed in their 2-1 win over Scotland on Friday.

‘Their performance in the first half against Scotland was much better, far better than when we played them in the SheBelieves,’ said Neville. England need more. 

Phil Neville was quick to offer some words of consolation as the team gathered in a huddle




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