England manager Phil Neville insists his team’s playing style is “non-negotiable” after they beat Japan to top Group D at the Women’s World Cup.
England were put under heavy pressure in Nice but two Ellen White goals and some resolute defending were enough to see them through to the last 16.
Neville maintains his expansive, possession-based style is one he wants to persevere with.
“The style is non-negotiable however far we go,” he said.
“When you get to last 16 it’s about winning. We place a big emphasis on winning as we like to play in a certain style.
“In the second half [against Japan], because we were so open and fatigued, we probably got exposed a little bit.
“But we got another clean sheet, won another game and we’ve played three and won three.
“We’re where we want to be – in the last 16, ready to attack the business end of the tournament.
“We played well for 90 minutes against Argentina, we played well for 78 minutes against Scotland and today there were glimpses, but with seven changes we probably didn’t get the control we wanted in the first half and the start of the second half.”
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After White opened the scoring with a clever finish over the onrushing Ayaka Yamashita, Japan grew into the game, with England happy to sit back and absorb pressure.
And while their back four were able to repel the majority of the Japanese threat, there were times when Karen Bardsley came to the fore, making one particularly impressive save to keep out Kumi Yokoyama’s swerving 35-yard free-kick.
Further up the field, Bardsley’s Manchester City team-mate Georgia Stanway impressed on her first World Cup start, and it was the 20-year-old who made White’s opener.
“Bardsley was great,” Neville said. “I think she was our player of the match today.
“You talk about the best keepers in the world, and we’ve seen some brilliant ones in this competition. She’s up there in the top three for me.”
He added on Stanway: “She is incredible. When we named the team she looked a bit surprised and nervous so we said pretend you’re in the park, playing with your friends.
“She’s going to be one of the best players in world football if she keeps her feet on the ground, keeps working hard, and keeps listening to coaches.”
Eyebrows were raised when Neville made wholesale changes to his starting XI for the second successive game – sending out a side with eight different faces from the team which beat Argentina on Friday.
And England did perhaps lack fluidity at times, with Toni Duggan and Demi Stokes, who were making their first appearances of the tournament, struggling to get into the game.
But Neville is determined that rotating his team is the best way forward, saying: “We picked our strongest team to play against Japan.
“That’s what rotation is about, not about putting 23 players into a hat and picking out 11 – we strategically plan each rotation and made eight today.
“We knew at times we were going to suffer, but it was a game we needed to have to keep us focused.”