England turned the threat of first-round elimination into Group B victory with a 2-0 win over Japan to reach the Women's World Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday.
After a lackluster first two games, England was spectacular in its decisive match. After 15 minutes, Sophie Bradley sent a deep ball from her half of the field toward Ellen White, who spotted goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori off her line. She let the ball bounce once and lobbed it over Kaihori with precision from 21 yards.
In the 66th, Rachel Unitt shrugged off several defenders to set up substitute forward Rachel Yankey for a delicate chip and the insurance goal.
Japan was supposed to be all about skill, while England relied on power. But with an inspired performance and great goals, the Englishwomen disproved it.
With the tournament on the line, England was aggressive and played with passion throughout, while Japan rarely thrilled the crowd of 20,777.
The victory gave England seven points, one more than Japan. Mexico and New Zealand were eliminated.
After the game, the players united behind a Japanese banner saying, "To our friends around the world — Thank you for your support," recognizing the global aid in the wake of the deadly Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March.
England had everything to play for. A big loss could have eliminated it from the tournament. Instead, the win over Japan allowed it avoid the top team of Group A in the quarterfinals.
The early goal settled nerves English nerves, and from then on England always looked more like group winners than first-round losers.
Japan started with the same lineup that set it up as a top seed, while England made changes in four places to rev up its efforts. Yet Japan found it tough to get its rhythm going.
After her first goal, White almost scored one of equal brilliance in the 38th when she had to go back for a cross, yet swung in an overhead volley that Kaihori barely tipped onto the crossbar and over the net.
Japan sought a way back into the game in the second half and Yuki Nagasato slid in behind defenders on a 49th-minute free kick, but her deflection went just wide.