England manager Phil Neville admitted that a “great generation” of Japan players will pose a major threat to his team at the 2019 women’s World Cup after Saturday’s draw for the tournament placed them in the same group.
England have aspirations of winning the World Cup after reaching the semi-finals in 2015, only to lose 2-1 to Japan.
They also reached the last four of Euro 2017, but their hopes of progressing far in France next year could be complicated by the presence of the 2011 world champions in the same Group D, which will also feature Scotland and Argentina.
However, Neville and his staff will see up close how his team compare to Japan when the nations meet in the SheBelieves Cup in the United States in March.
“That will be an interesting game but they are a team that we know a lot about,” Neville said after Saturday’s draw in Boulogne-Billancourt, just outside Paris.
“They have a great generation of footballers coming through and they are approaching the World Cup probably in the same mindset as us.
“They want to win the World Cup so that tells you what type of team we are coming up against in the third group game.”
Both teams will hope to come into that match in Nice on June 19 with maximum points, which would make it a potentially crucial shoot-out for top spot.
The winners of Group D will face a third-placed team in the last 16, while the runners-up will face the winners of Group E, which could be Canada or the Netherlands.
England will start their campaign against old rivals Scotland in Nice on June 9, a match which will hold no fears for them given they beat Scotland 6-0 in their opening game at Euro 2017.
However Neville, who became England manager at the start of this year, warned: “It will be a different game — they’ve got brilliant players that would grace any team in the top 10 in the world.”
The former Manchester United star also described that match as a tremendous opportunity for the future of the women’s game in the United Kingdom.
“It’s about winning and losing but we are here to inspire as well and I think this fixture for UK athletes, UK footballers, for the next generation, will be one of the best occasions that English and Scottish football has ever had.”
– ‘Phenomenal’ –
Scotland will be making their first appearance at the World Cup finals. Their coach Shelley Kerr had said before the draw that she wanted to avoid the biggest names, but her excitement got the better of her on Saturday.
“This is the level we want to challenge ourselves at. We’ve got to a World Cup finals for the first time so we need to embrace it,” said Kerr, whose team will play Asako Takakura’s Japan in Rennes in their second game.
“Japan are so good. I worked with two World Cup winners at Arsenal — (Yukari) Kinga and (Shinobu) Ohno — absolutely phenomenal players,” she said.
“Over the years Japan have been a formidable force, tactically and technically I think they are phenomenal as a team.
“We will really need to be at our best if we are to have a chance of getting out of the group.”