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Women’s World Cup: Italy dominates, Japan hangs on, England persists

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Japan got back on track while Scotland was the first side officially eliminated from the tournament as the Asian side clung to a 2-1 victory in Rennes. Japan dominated the first half and took a 2-0 lead into the break on goals by attackers Mana Iwabuchi and Yuika Sugasawa but they were forced to hang on late as Lana Clelland curled one in to make for an intriguing finish.

Following an opening-round 0-0 draw with Argentina that left a powerful side with more questions than answers, Japan was ruthless in the first half as Iwabuchi opened the scoring 23 minutes in as her right-footed blast found the roof of the net just under the crossbar from outside the box. They had a 2-0 lead 14 minutes later as a speculative counter-attack saw Rachel Corsie bundle over Sugasawa defending a long-ball, and the Japanese striker was on hand to dispatch the penalty.

Scotland was happy to hear the halftime whistle, and they came out stronger after the break but Clelland’s curler proved only a consolation as Japan found victory for the first time this tournament. As two-time finalists in the last two World Cups, Japan breathed a sign of relief following a much better attacking effort thank their opening game and moved atop Group D for the time being, although that would not last long as England reclaimed the lead. Scotland, meanwhile, suffered its second one-goal defeat and is still without a point heading into its final match, eliminated officially as England claimed victory later in the day.

In the second game of the day, Italy secured qualification to the knockout stages with a commanding Group C lead after dismantling Jamaica 5-0 in Reims, the site of the United States’ demolition of Thailand. A hat-trick from Juventus striker Cristiana Girelli led the way, with substitute Aurora Galli bagging a pair to finish things off.

Already with two goals by halftime on a 2-0 lead, Girelli secured her hat-trick just seconds after halftime with a far-post header that trickled over the line following a fabulous long-distance delivery from Manuela Giugliano. Girelli becomes the first Italian to score a Women’s World Cup hat-trick, marking the country’s return to the event after a 20-year absence in thunderous fashion.

Galli came on in the 65th minute and did excellent work off the bench, firing an absolute howitzer for her first in the 71st minute before tacking on the finale with nine minutes left.

Finally, England weathered a disappointing first half to come away victorious over Argentina. The South American side held England goalless in the first half in similar fashion to their opening match against Japan, with the European group dominant but unable to find the back of the net, even seeing a poor 28th minute penalty from Nikita Parris saved. After halftime, it was more of the same early as Vanina Correa made an absolutely stunning close-range save on a messy England set-piece.

Argentina held through the hour mark, but were undone right there as the Lionesses broke through via Jodie Taylor on the break. After a rare Argentina attack, England countered and a stellar cross from Beth Mead evaded the racing defenders and a diving Correa, and Taylor was there for the tap-in.

England failed to score again, with Paris heading over on 71 minutes before they appeared to take their foot off the gas, but in was still a dominating wire-to-wire performance despite the thin scoreline, as they topped Argentina on the shot count 15-1. England’s Abbie McManus out-passed Argentina by herself, completing 111 distributions to Argentina’s 96.

England secured a place in the knockout stages with the win, while Argentina is still in the mix but need a win against Scotland plus some help from above.

England ousts host Canada to make Women’s World Cup semifinal for first time

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — England is headed to the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup for the first time ever after beating host Canada, 2-1 on Saturday in front of a tournament-high crowd of 54,027 fans at BC Place.

The Lionesses got off to a quick start thanks to first half goals from Jodie Taylor and Lucy Bronze and they never looked back.

“To come here under the pressure that we’re under against 50,000 Canadians, against the home nation, everything was against us today,” England captain Steph Houghton said. “And to be able to go 2-0 up in the first 15 minutes was credit to all the girls. There’s a great belief in this squad. It’s a historic moment for English football to be able to get to a semifinal in a World Cup.”

It will be England vs. Japan in the semifinal on Wednesday in Edmonton, Alberta, with a spot at the World Cup final match at stake. Germany and the United States play in the other semifinal on Tuesday in Montreal.

For Canada, the loss marked heartbreak on home soil.

“Obviously it’s not how we wanted the tournament to end,” Canada captain Christine Sinclair said. “Anytime you get knocked out of a tournament your upset. Especially when I thought we didn’t deserve to go out like that tonight.”

England got off to a brilliant start by smashing a pair of quick goals past Erin McLeod and a shambolic Canadian back line. Canada defender Lauren Sesselmann has been all over the map during the World Cup with her shaky and unconvincing play. Sesselmann was stripped of the ball in midfield by Jodie Taylor. The Portland Thorns forward turned Allysha Chapman inside and out while racing in on goal. Taylor deposited the ball past McLeod for an early 1-0 advantage.

As if things could not get worse for the host nation, they did. A free kick from Fara Williams found an unmarked Lucy Bronze at the back post. The England right back headed the ball off the bottom of the bar and past McLeod for her second goal in as many matches.

Fourteen minutes in and Canada was down 2-0. This was the first time the Red and White had to come back trailing in a match. Melissa Tancredi’s first half misses from in close could have absolutely changed the complexion of the match had she converted. England gave Canada all sorts of problems in the opening forty-five and John Herdman’s players looked completely shocked.

Canada was given a lifeline in the 42nd minute when they cut the deficit in half. Ashley Lawrence spun away from her defender and fired a low shot on target that England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was not able to control. The ball was dangerously left in the path of Christine Sinclair and the Canadian skipper scored and earned a thunderous cheer. Canada was back in the match before halftime.

Canada coach John Herdman elected to keep Sesselmann in the match and did not make any changes before the second half. It was in fact England that made the first substitution. Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was forced to exit the match with what an apparent eye injury. Siobhan Chamberlain entered with her team on the brink of a semifinal birth.

The long-awaited return of Diana Matheson finally happened for Canada. Realizing Canada need more offensively in a win or go home match, Herdman gave Matheson the green light for her first match action since October 2014 after tearing her ACL and suffering a foot fracture in her comeback. The midfielder came on to a huge roar in the 62nd minute for Wilkinson. Josee Belanger shifted back into a fullback position while Matheson controlled the right flank.

Adriana Leon and Sophie Schmidt both had late chances in close, but nothing really tested Chamberlain. For the second consecutive England match, it was Bronze scoring the match-winner. The fullback earned the heroics in hostile territory.

Canada’s World Cup dream came to an end.

Sinclair is proud of the way her teammates played during the World Cup. The future is bright for Canada, but at the moment, this loss to England will take a while to recover from.

“I’m proud of them,” she said of her teammates. “You look around the stadium and there’s fifty odd thousand people wearing Canada jerseys. The young kids now dream of representing Canada, and we did that. This one stings, but in the grand scheme of things this tournament was a huge success.”

Injured England player Jordan Nobbs was not able to recover from her hamstring injury to participate in the match. Nobbs has been sidelined for much of the World Cup. The England vice-captain talked about emotions from the sidelines as she watched a victorious England.

“It’s never racking watching the girls,” she said. “There’s a whole 23 that have played a massive part in this tournament. I think nearly everyone one of us in the squad have been in the squad at some point. I just think it shows the strength in our squad. We’re behind each others backs through and through.”

Now, its on to the semifinals for England.

Canada Starting XI: Erin McLeod; Allysha Chapman, Lauren Sesselmann, Kadeisha Buchanan, Rhian Wilkinson (Diana Matheson 62); Ashley Lawrence, Desiree Scott (Kaylyn Kyle 77), Sophie Schmidt; Melissa Tancredi (Adriana Leon 71), Christine Sinclair(C), Josee Belanger. (4-4-3)

England Starting XI: Karen Bardsley (Siobhan Chamberlain 51); Claire Rafferty, Laura Bassett, Steph Houghton(C), Lucy Bronze; Fara Williams (Ellen White 78); Jill Scott, Katie Chapman, Jade Moore; Karen Carney (Casey Stoney 90+3), Jodie Taylor. (4-1-3-2)

Alex Morgan scores as USWNT downs England 1-0

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The U.S. women’s national team ended its five-match winless streak with a 1-0 win over England, and it was Alex Morgan with the match-claiming honors at Milton Keynes.

In the 25th minute, Lauren Holiday took advantage of space on the wing to send in a cross, and the former University of California-Berkley standout buried the header on the doorstep for the significant goal.

According to the Associated Press, the USWNT hadn’t scored in 217 minutes until the Morgan’s score, which met a certain benchmark among elite United States women:

Morgan got her 50th goal in 79 international appearances, becoming the third-fastest American woman to reach the mark behind Michelle Akers (49 games) and Abby Wambach (64).

However, individual accolades do not define a team, and overall, the Americans did not show the high-caliber style of soccer they need at the 2015 World Cup.

[MORE: USWNT news and rumors]

Jill Ellis’ side dominated possession and controlled the pace of play in this competition, but the United States had trouble effectively stringing together passes from high to low areas.

England was the inferior opponent, but the chance to produce an favorable result was present when聽England striker Jodie Taylor should have leveled the match at 1-1 in the second half.

Her converted strike was cancelled out due to a highly-controversial offside call.

Minutes later, Holiday blasted a long-range attempt but goalkeeper Karen Bardsley sat in correct position for the unruffled save.

Shortly after, midfielder-defender Ali Krieger then gathered a quick pass from veteran Abby Wambach and tried a shot on frame. Once again, Bardsley was there to thwart the danger.

The U.S. were without longtime goalkeeper Hopo Solo due to her 30-day suspension imposed last month.