England v Japan: Seven reasons you must not miss England's biggest match in 25 years

England v Japan: Seven reasons you must not miss England's biggest match in 25 years

02/07/2015 at 01:59

England's women play Japan in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday night - and it's a game you absolutely must stay up and watch. Here's why.


1. It's a World Cup semi-final!

Okay, we can understand why you didn't stay up until midnight to watch the Thailand v Ivory Coast group stage game. But you should have done: it was a five-goal thriller. Don't make the same mistake again - it's a World Cup, and while it may not feature Lionel Messi and Neymar it's still top level competition in which we know great things will happen because they already have.

2. The whole tournament makes Sepp Blatter look even more ridiculous than normal

FIFA's disgraceful chief got booed last time he went to the Women's World Cup final, coming as it did soon after he suggested that the players should wear shorter shorts and tighter tops if they wanted better viewing figures. This time round he's so snowed under by "commitments in Zurich" that he's ducked out of attending Sunday's final in Vancouver. Coincidentally, the city lies just 35 miles for the United States, home to the FBI investigators currently investigating FIFA. How can you not love a tournament that shows Blatter up?

3. Thrills guaranteed!

Japan are capable of scoring goals like this:

4. A chance to decide if England coach Mark Sampson is a genius or a fool

Three weeks into the Women's World Cup, and still the jury is out on England's slightly oddball manager. Have the side made it to the semi-finals despite him, or because of him? Throwing out of the window the entire 'settled sides win tournaments' philosophy, he has instead decided to field completely different starting XIs for each match.

What's more, those tactics have barely ever worked - yet his mid-game substitutions and tactical switches have been astoundingly successful, notably getting England out of trouble against Mexico in the group stage and helping them turn things round against Norway after going behind in the last 16.

5. Disasters probably also guaranteed!

Japan's goalkeeper is… well, let's just be nice and say that she's not quite as talented as her team-mates further up the park:

6. Real world charm

We're not going to pretend that England's women have the same skill level as the teams in the semi-final of the men's World Cup last year. England have a 63% pass completion rate - a full nine per cent worse than the Premier League's worst passers last season, Crystal Palace.

But the unpolished nature of the women's game actually makes it a lot more relatable in many ways to those who play Sunday League football. It somehow all feels the more real - and that makes it utterly compelling.

7. Finally, a chance for England to put things right

To any neutral, Italia '90 was probably one of the worst World Cups in years. The tournament produced the lowest goals-per-game ratio ever as defensive football took an ugly stranglehold on the beautiful game, and cynical fouls were order of the day.

But for English football fans, it was glorious: the excruciating group stage, the appalling 119 goalless minutes against Belgium before David Platt's last-gasp winner, the horror of seeing the side completely outplayed by Cameroon until they bizarrely gave away two late penalties to turn it round.

And then there was the semi-final. England were superb, playing West Germany around the park, doing everything except win (though Germany's opening goal was merely a cruel deflection off Paul Parker's shoulder). But then it all went wrong: the miserable sight of Gazza reduced to tears by the yellow card that he knew would keep him out of the final.

1990 World Cup semi-final England's Paul Gascoigne cries

1990 World Cup semi-final England's Paul Gascoigne criesAFP

It only got worse: next came the agonising penalty shoot-out. It resembled nothing so much as a football-based Terminator movie in which the unstoppable machines of Germany ruthlessly crushed the weak, distinctly fleshy and all-too-human English players.

Finally, England are once again on a world stage with a chance to make a final. It's time to right that wrong.