ith Zambia’s Barbra Banda having hit back-to-back hat-tricks already, and Vivianne Miedema on target for the Dutch again on Saturday night after scoring four in their opener, it could end up taking a farcical tally to clinch the golden boot in the women’s tournament at these Olympic Games.
For the second game in a row, the Manchester City striker proved the difference for Hege Riise’s side, her third goal of the tournament proving the only one of the game as the Brits beat hosts Japan to book their place in the quarter-finals with a game to spare.
Riise had made four changes to the side that started the opening win over Chile, with Arsenal’s Nikita Parris among those brought into the side, while her new clubmate Mana Iwabuchi was surprisingly left out of the Japan XI. Both managers were seemingly wary of the condensed run of fixtures that they hope will lie ahead, but while GB will now have the luxury of rotating for the final day clash with Canada, Japan must beat Chile to be sure of avoiding an embarrassing early exit from their own Olympics.
The opening 45 minutes was out of kilter with some of the bonkers, goal-laden, matches we’ve witnessed so far at these Games. Neither side fashioned a clear-cut chance, with Yoko Tanaka’s long range shot just wide as close as either came to breaking the deadlock as Japan were able to stifle the likes of Lauren Hemp and Kim Little, who had been so dangerous in the opening win over Chile.
In fact, not until the introduction of Caroline Weir on the hour-mark did GB spark into life, with Hemp’s influence growing. From a corner won by the winger’s dart down the left, Japan could only half-clear and Houghton – who had handed captaincy duties to Little as part of Riise’s rotation policy – volleyed just over the bar, before Parris went close with a curler after driving inside.
In the build-up to the game, Parris had become the latest player in the British camp to lavish praise on the increasingly not-so-secret weapon that is performance coach Dawn Scott and here was her work in evidence as Riise’s side went through the gears as the hosts began to tire.
The breakthrough was familiar in its design, Little’s composure and Lucy Bronze’s delivery inviting White to dart across both defender and flapping ‘keeper to guide a header over the pair and into an empty net.
As it had been against the Chileans, Ellie Roebuck’s goal remained largely unthreatened but it was White’s effort that shifted the narrative from uninspiring draw to another professional job well done. She may not top the scoring charts – but as England came to appreciate at the World Cup two years ago, in tournament football, you’d be a fool to swap her for anyone.