Ellen White helps Great Britain edge past Olympic hosts Japan to reach quarter-finals

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·23-min read
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Ellen White - ASANO IKKO/ AFP
Ellen White - ASANO IKKO/ AFP

Japan 0 Team GB 1

Team GB’s women’s football side booked their place in the quarter-finals with a game to spare as Ellen White’s third goal of the tournament was enough to edge them past hosts Japan.

In a quiet, cagey contest in Sapporo, White’s darting run to the near post to flick home Lucy Bronze’s cross made the difference to give GB a 1-0 victory and six points from a possible six at the start of their Tokyo 2020 Olympics campaign.

The result guarantees this composed GB side's progression to the last eight and puts them in pole position to win the group - they will do so if they avoid defeat against Canada on Tuesday (midday BST kick-off). Canada were 2-1 winners over Chile earlier on Saturday to move onto four points, putting them second in the group.

With supporters prohibited from attending and therefore Japan playing without the presence of a home crowd, the 2012 silver medallists looked subdued and, despite their technical skill on the ball and possession-based game in the first half, they were rarely able to undo GB’s well-drilled defence.

GB head coach Hege Riise switched to play with two holding midfielders, Wales’ Sophie Ingle and England’s Keira Walsh from the start of the game, after using only Walsh to protect the backline against Chile. That gave GB a solid protective line, albeit it contributed to a fairly eventless, unexciting and even first half. Yet GB looked happy to have contained the Japanese side and then went for the jugular later in the game.

After Steph Houghton had volleyed narrowly over the bar, the introduction of Scotland’s Caroline Weir off the bench in the second half helped GB step up the tempo and create more overloads in wide areas, and they broke the deadlock when Bronze’s spinning cross to the near post was flicked in by White’s deflected header, amid a slight mix-up in the Japan defence.

Weir clipped a free-kick onto the roof of the net in the 90th minute, as GB ended the game the stronger of the two sides and looked decent value for their win.

Ellen White continues to deliver on the big stage

Quite simply, where would Team GB be without Ellen White? As the BBC’s Jonathan Pearce signed off at the end of his commentary on Saturday, “It was all right on the night because of Ellen White, White, White,” after her third goal of these Olympic Games gave GB a priceless victory.

White has scored all of the British team’s goals in the competition so far. In fact, she has netted 14 times in her past 16 internationals overall, for England and GB. When it comes to major competitions, Ellen White is the woman for the big occasion.

England’s top scorer at the 2019 World Cup with six goals, the Manchester City striker is delivering once again for Queen and country.

Remarkably, despite White’s impact for GB, she is trailing behind two standout, leading contenders for the golden boot, such has been the high-scoring nature of other games. Holland striker Vivianne Miedema has six goals after grabbing a brace on Saturday, while Zambia’s star striker Barbra Banda has made history with back-to-back hat-tricks, despite her side losing 10-3 to the Dutch and then drawing 4-4 with China.

But White’s goals have been more pivotal, in low-scoring, tight affairs. Asked how valuable it was to have a striker like White, GB head coach Hege Riise said: “It was a goal from nothing. That’s the small margin, when you play a top team like Japan, that’s the detail from an excellent player. That moment is game-changing.”

"The first half was a little bit slow from us. Second half, we came out almost as a different team with an attitude and togetherness. We played strong together and we all committed. I’m quite happy with how we controlled the game in the last 5-10 mins as well, to not concede."

For some, Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita was at fault, coming to claim Bronze’s cross from the right but not getting there in time. In reality, White’s late burst to the near post was too quick for her, as former Manchester United manager Casey Stoney - working as a BBC One pundit - explained: “It’s the timing [of her run]. It’s so difficult to mark that.

"Because Ellen White comes so late, comes across the front of the defender and, as a defender, it’s really difficult to see the run and see the ball, and Ellen just waits, goes late and fast, across the goalkeeper - it’s fantastic.”

 Ellen White of Britain scores their first goal. - REUTERS
Ellen White of Britain scores their first goal. - REUTERS

Summariser Sue Smith added: “Yes, it was a mix-up from the goalkeeper, but it’s great movement from Ellen White. She gets the flick and gets her goal. That’s what she has done so much better, she’s adapted her game, she plays between those goalposts.”

Ex-England winger Smith is referring to White’s marked improvements on the international stage in recent years, since Neville’s appointment to the England job in 2018 saw the former Chelsea, Arsenal and Notts County striker focus more on poaching goals in the penalty area than on her deeper build-up play.

This softly-spoken, hard-working and truly likeable national heroine has now scored in six of her past seven major tournament fixtures; that consistency on the biggest stage could yet lead to a medal hanging around all of the GB squad’s necks come the first week of August.

Match details

Japan (4-4-2): Yamashita; Shimizu, Kumagai, Minami, Miyagawa; Shiokoshi (Momiki, 55), Nakajima (Iwabuchi, 80), Hayashi (Miura, 67), Sugita; Tanaka (Endo, 68), Hasegawa Subs not used: Sugasawa, Takarada, Ikeda

Yellow cards: Yamashita, Hayashi

Team GB (4-2-3-1): Roebuck, Bronze, Houghton Williamson, Stokes; Walsh, Ingle (Weir, 59); Parris (Daly, 75), Little (Scott, 89), Hemp (Stanway, 88); White

Subs not used: Telford (gk), Charles, Bright

Yellow cards: None

Referee: Anastasia Pustovoytova (Russia)

As it happened

12:21 PM

FULL TIME - GB 1- 0 Japan

It's job done for Hege Riise's side, who underline their medal credentials with a narrow albeit important victory over the Olympic hosts.

Dspite having played barely any warm-up matches for the Games - GB are through to the knock-out stage.

For context, Japan won all five of their Olympic warm-up matches, scoring 28 goals in the process. That's a big statement from GB.

12:18 PM

92 mins - GB 1- 0 Japan

Japan just don't look like scoring - they've barely troubled Roebuck in this half.

12:16 PM

89 mins GB 1- 0 Japan

GB win a free-kick not far outside and it's Weir who gets the ball up and over the wall but it just doesn't dip enough. There's three minutes of stoppage time. Can GB hold on?

Jill Scott and Georgia Stanway now on for GB to steady the ship in the final minutes..

12:13 PM

84 mins GB 1- 0 Japan

Japan press forward for an equaliser, but Endo is offside - by a fraction. Little, who has put in a huge shift in midfield today, appears to be limping a bit.

We've got some more analysis from Tom Garry. There's one player who's turned the tide for GB in this much brighter second half:

GB have looked much better ever since Scotland's Caroline Weir came on. That could well turn out to be the substitution that wins this game.

12:08 PM

80 mins GB 1- 0 Japan

That piece of movement and skill from White was simply sublime. Should Riise take her star striker off now and save her for GB's next game against Canada on Tuesday?

12:05 PM

75 mins - GOAL FOR GB!!!

It's terrible mix up at the back for Japan but brilliant play from GB. Steph Houghton angles a ball through to Little who does so well to look after the ball, twisting and turning away from her opposite number before laying the ball off to Bronze, who hoists a high, teasing ball into the box.

There doesn't seem to be any real danger, but out of nowhere who comes and rushes to meet it but.. GB's talismanic forward White, who helps the ball on with a sublime deft header which beats her marker and Japan's GK, who charges out to palm away danger. But White is just too quick and scores her third goal of these Olympic Games. GB are 15 minutes away from going through.

11:58 AM

69 mins GB 0 - 0 Japan

GB have enjoyed 58% of the possession in this half, but have nothing to show for it. A point will probably be enough to see GB through, but Japan desperately don't want to lose, as Japan's goalkeeper Yamashita eats up another GB corner. Entering the final 20 minutes now...


11:53 AM

66 mins GB 0 - 0 Japan

Parris finds herself down the right but looks a bit stranded as she curls a low cross into the box on her weaker, left foot. Yamashita watches the ball drift past her right post.

11:51 AM

62 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Japan are now back-pedalling as GB win another corner. Bronze heads the ball towards goal, which begins ping-ponging around the area. Little prods a tame clearance back in with a half volley, before Houghton snatches at the ball with her own header. The England captain's effort sails over, but at the moment, GB look the stronger team who could break the deadlock.

11:48 AM

60 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Caroline Weir is on the pitch for GB to provide more options for her compatriot Little in the midfield. This is where it starts to get serious - head coach Hege Riise knows this Japanese midfield is proving too much to break down with the current system.

Parris pounces on the recycled ball from Hemp's cross but in her effort to do so throws Miyagawa off balance, and Japan win a free kick.

11:44 AM

56 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Japan make the first change of the match and bring on Yuka Momiki, American-born Japanese footballer who plays as a forward for Linköpings FC. Her first test is to defend a GB corner. Little fires the ball into a sea of bodies... was Steph Houghton nudged in the back there?

11:39 AM

GB have started this half better... says Tom Garry

GB already look much more purposeful since the break, immediately getting more players forward, notably Lucy Bronze who has started the half far higher up the pitch. That's encouraging, for GB fans, compared to the first half.

11:38 AM

53 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Now it's Japan's turn to press. Sugita drives at GB's defence and finds Hayashi's in the box, but Williamson, who has shown a lot of confidence on her Olympic debut, comes across to clear. There's a long-range effort from Minami but it doesn't trouble Roebuck, who watches the ball float well over the crossbar.

11:35 AM

48 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

GB are stroking the ball about nicely. Parris looks for Hemp with a deep cross but Shimizu boots away the ball for a corner which is aimed towards Bronze, who readjusts her Alice band and bun before the ball is sent in. The right back doesn't connect cleanly and Japan clear.

11:32 AM

45 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

We're underway for the second half. You can already see a spring in the step of GB, who instantly start bossing the ball a bit quicker. Ellen White gets her head on an early cross from Ingle but the Man City forward - which she sends over the bar. The flag goes up for offside anyway, but a much brighter start from GB.

11:24 AM

Tom Garry with a half-time update..

That wasn't very exciting, was it? Certainly not compared to the 4-2 thriller between Sweden and Australia earlier today, nor China and Zambia's 4-4 draw. Both teams seem content on not losing as their primary objective.

However, GB are well in the game. The challenge now is to get more support up the forwards, who've looked a bit isolated at times when GB have got the ball into the Japan half. How brave will Hege Riise be after the break?

11:22 AM

HALF TIME GB 0 - 0 Japan

It's been a bit of a lack lustre affair so far at the Sapporo Dome. Both teams have looked cagey at times - playing as if they don't want to lose the game rather than win it. Houghton has been a rock in defence and has been called into action more times than GB perhaps would have liked, but they've not had any real chances at the other end.

Oops. A bit of a slip there from Casey Stoney in the BBC studio at half-time, who references 'England' rather than Team GB. Not the first time that has happened this week.

11:17 AM

43 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Lucy Bronze has bent forward a couple of times - is she injured? Let's check in with Tom Garry, our women's football reporter, for his take on how the game has panned out so far:

This feels like a game that's really missing spectators more than most; It's quite flat at the moment. Both teams seem happy being patient, there's no great intensity, and it's lacking that lift that comes naturally from a lively crowd.

That said, I think GB will be relatively pleased so far. They've got an element of control on proceedings, even if they've not created much. This is sensible, tournament football for now, not going too gung-ho in the early stages.

11:13 AM

42 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

GB are beginning to increase the intensity a little bit as we approach half-time. Williamson finds Little, who surges forward and in turn arrows the ball out to the ever-present Hemp down the left, but the Man City player sends a wayward cross into the box - and there's no GB players in there anyway.

11:11 AM

36 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Parris floats a ball into Hemp who does well to direct a header towards goal, but it's too tame for goalkeeper Yamashita.

11:09 AM

34 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Japan again press high and Mina Tanaka unleashes a dangerous, rifling shot towards goal but it drifts narrowly wide. The midfielder is totally unmarked and Sophie Ingle does just about enough to put off her off with Houghton suddenly finding herself out of position. That was close.

11:04 AM


Hemp picks up the ball in the centre of the park and has just demonstrated why she has retained her starting position in Hege Riise's side. She goes on one of her dizzying runs and immediately draws the foul from Hayashi, who is booked.

Hemp - Silvia Izquierdo/AP
Hemp - Silvia Izquierdo/AP

11:01 AM

28 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

There's a bit of a mix up between Hemp and Stokes on the edge of the area as Japan close in on another attack, but the ball deflects off Sugita for a goal-kick. The hosts regain possession from the restart and look really composed, bouncing the ball around in the midfield. Houghton again fires away danger with a half volley, as Hasegawa is starting to carve a lot of space down Japan's left flank.

10:55 AM

24 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

There's already a few danger signs flashing for GB. Japan earn another corner after a good bit of defending from Stokes, who starts in place of Rachel Daly. Japan whip the ball into the box and again Houghton is there to head the ball away. Japan are looking organised and have enjoyed the lion's share of possession so far, floating in and out of channels around GB shirts, which seem somewhat static at the moment.

10:51 AM

19 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Bronze finds Hemp on the left who astutely crosses the ball to Little at the top of the box, but the Scot cannot find her feet and watches her shot blocked. That was a better movement from GB.

10:48 AM

17 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

You can already notice the step up in this test. GB haven't shown any really attacking prowess yet and the channel that Hemp so easily showed in the Chile game is yet to be seen here. Blue shirts are swarming the Man City forward whenever she tries to make a run.

10:46 AM

15 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Japan win their first corner of the match after Sugita's cross is deflected off Bronze. The hosts take it short before rolling the ball out to Hayashi who rifles a shot from deep. It's a fierce effort and on target - but falls straight into the gloved hands off Ellie Roebuck.

10:43 AM

12 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Lucy Bronze bundles into Sugita in a dangerous area just outside the box. Nakajima curls the ball which is met by the head of Steph Houghton and GB quickly clear.

10:38 AM

5 mins - GB 0 - 0 Japan

Bit of a scrappy start from both sides. Little finds Hemp and the Man City winger bursts through the midfield with her first darting run. The Japanese will have done their homework on the promising English youngster, who starred in GB's opening win over Chile. No real chances yet as both teams find their rhythm.

10:33 AM

We're underway!

We have kick off at the Sapporo Dome. This will be a big test for Team GB, led for the first time by Scotland's Kim Little.

10:31 AM

Both teams take the knee

For the second match in a row, GB and every member of their opposition take the knee before KO.

10:30 AM

TV coverage has started

Former Manchester United manager Casey Stoney is providing punditry for today's encounter. Here's what she made of Team GB - featuring a heavy Man City contingent - before the match:

Those relationships and networks on the pitch will be key, they've been going for many years and will give them a huge advantage because they haven't had ideal preparation going into this tournament - they've only had one game behind closed doors.

I think they'll work hard, they've got enough creativity and they can score goals, it's whether they can keep Japan out today.

KO imminent.

10:22 AM

An early contender for the golden boot?

The golden boot race is already hotting up in the women's competition - and Zambia's Barbra Banda looks in with a shout of winning it. She becomes the first female footballer to score back-to-back hat-tricks at an Olympics. Remarkable stuff.

Here's a reminder of the other matches taking place today:

Group E: Chile v Canada - KO 8.30am

Group F: China v Zambia - KO 9am

Group F: Netherlands v Brazil KO 12pm

Group G: Sweden v Australia - KO 9.30am

Group G: New Zealand v USA - KO 12.30pm

10:12 AM

TV coverage for today's game

A reminder that Team GB vs Japan isn’t on any of the main channels in the UK, but you can watch it on any of the BBC’s online services (BBC iPlayer and Red Button)

Kick-off coming up in just under 20 minutes.

10:04 AM

Tom Garry's pre-match thoughts

Let's hear from our resident women's football reporter..

Chile are no minnows, and Canada's hard-fought 2-1 win over the South Americans today highlights how well GB played against La Roja Femenina on Wednesday, but - despite that - there's no denying that today's opponents represent a significant step up in quality.

Japan as a nation has great pedigree in the women's game and the 2011 World Cup winners claimed the silver medal at London 2012, after finishing fourth in 2008.

Today is the first time we'll get a true glimpse of how GB are likely to fare against the real medal contenders in this wide-open competition.

10:03 AM


Japan (4-4-2): Yamashita, Hayashi, Miyagawa, Hasegawa, Skiokoshi, Tanaka, Nakajima, Sugita, Minami, Kumagai (c), Shimizu.

Subs: Ikeda (GK), Takarada, Miura, Sugasawa, Iwabuchi, Endo, Momiki.

The big shock is that Arsenal-bound Mana Iwabuchi - a skillful deep-lying forward who has been the face of Japanese football for over a decade - is on the bench for the hosts. Her move to North London was confirmed earlier on in the summer and Ian Wright is already shown his excitement for the Japanese star:

09:54 AM


GB (4-2-3-1): Roebuck, Bronze, Houghton, Williamson, Stokes; Ingle, Little, Walsh; Hemp, White, Parris

Subs: Weir, Daly, Telford (GK) Bright, Stanway, Scott, Charles.

History being made today as Kim Little captains the side to become the first Scot to wear the armband for GB in football at an Olympic Games.

As predicted, Fran Kirby again misses out as she continues to recover from a knock picked up in training.

09:47 AM

GB to play in their white strip

GB will play in their white kit for the first time at the Games against the Olympic hosts. White shirt, white shorts and white socks.

Japan will be in their traditional blue.

Caroline Weir  - Naomi Baker/Getty Images/Getty Images Europe
Caroline Weir - Naomi Baker/Getty Images/Getty Images Europe

09:40 AM


GB make four changes to the team that beat Chile on Wednesday, as Arsenal duo Nikita Parris and Leah Williamson both come in to start, Wales' Sophie Ingle comes into midfield and Demi Stokes comes in for Rachel Daly at left-back.

The surprise news from the hosts is that new Arsenal signing Mana Iwabuchi is only on Japan's bench. She scored for them against Canada three days ago.

Leah Williamson celebrates - Masashi Hara/Getty Images
Leah Williamson celebrates - Masashi Hara/Getty Images

09:34 AM

GB primed for Japan's possession-based game

GB head coach Hege Riise says she has worked with her squad on how to cope better without the ball, in light of Japan's possession-based game. The Norway great, who won Olympic gold as a player in 2000, is expecting to try and utilise counter attacks in this match, using GB's pace down the flanks.

"We've talked with the players about their experience from previous games against Japan," Riise said on Friday. "They always come up with a good result, but also struggle against Japan when they possess the ball, so it’s kind of [about] how we need to defend as a team to be able to not let them into their game, but take them on the counter and kind of run with them at speed. So that’s the discussion or the game-plan."

09:09 AM


Good morning and welcome to today’s live coverage of Team GB’s second match at the Tokyo Games in Sapporo, where they will look to maintain their perfect start in the tournament against Olympic hosts Japan.

GB are top of Group E and will secure their passage to the knockout stage with victory today.

Against Japan, who are top seeds in the women’s draw, they can expect a tougher encounter than the 2-0 win they secured over Chile last Wednesday. The hosts sit 10th in the world rankings and managed a 1-1 draw with dark horses Canada in their opening game.

Hege Riise’s GB side are likely to be without striker Fran Kirby, who missed the side’s opening victory over Chile last Wednesday after picking up a knock before the tournament.

Riise confirmed earlier this week that the Chelsea star was "back in training and feels good" but hinted she will take no risks on the PFA Player of the Year. “We want to be sure that we don’t push her and take the time that she needs and the medical team requires,” she said.

We can expect a changed GB side to the one that comfortably dismantled Chile in the week, with Scotland international Kim Little set to be handed the captain’s armband for today’s game. A gentle reminder that England skipper Steph Houghton, Little and Wales’ captain Sophie Ingle are leading this Team GB side on a rotational basis throughout the side’s Olympic campaign.

After putting in a scintillating shift against Chile, all eyes will be on Manchester City winger Lauren Hemp who was one of GB’s standout players in the side’s win over the South Americans.

Despite playing next to no warm-up games for their Olympic campaign, Riise, who won gold as a player with Norway in 2000, was full of praise for Manchester City's White after her brace.

"We trust Ellen to score goals and she does,” she said. “Not only goals, she fights hard, she works for 90 minutes to get the goal or other players in. She's important and brings a lot of confidence to this team.”

Just to recap - if you’re unfamiliar with women’s football - this is only the second time GB have entered a female team at an Olympics - and first since the London 2012 Games, where they reached the quarter-finals.

Unlike in the men’s tournament where age limits apply, women's teams can field their strongest, senior sides, to ensure the greatest level of competition as a major tournament where gold medals are seen as the pinnacle of players' careers.

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