After disappointing starts to their tournaments, Japan and Scotland were looking for improvement in their second FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 group match. Former world champions Japan opened with a disappointing no-scoring draw with Argentina. While Scotland was narrowly beaten by two goals to one by their neighbours England. 

This tactical analysis will explain how Japan played against the Scots to avoid another disappointing performance and the possibility of an early exit for the former FIFA Women’s World Cup winners. Scotland’s chances of qualifying from their Women’s World Cup group hang by a thread after defeat by Japan. Consecutive 2-1 defeats leave Scotland bottom of the table without a point. Unluckily for them, a penalty decision in each game has cost them dearly.

Line ups

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland
Line Ups

Japan (4-4-2)

Starting XI: Yamashita – Shimizu, Kumagai, Ichise, Sameshima – Nakajima, Sugita, Miura, Endo – Iwabuchi, Sugasawa.

Coach: Asako Takakura

Bench: Ikeda (GK), Utsugi, Sakaguchi, Kobayashi, Minami, Takarada, Hasegawa, Momiki, Miyagawa, Yokoyama, Hirao (GK), Miyake

Scotland (4-4-2)

Starting XI: Alexander – Smith, Corsie, Beattie, Lauder – Evans, Little, Weir, Arnott – Cuthbert, Ross.

Coach: Shelley Kerr

Bench: Docherty, Love, Crichton, Lynn (GK), Arthur, Howard, Murray, Emslie, Clelland, Brown, Fife (GK), Murray

Passive Scotland

Unusually for Scotland, in both of their group matches, they have been passive in the first half. The average passes per defensive action in each game was 18.53 against England and 15.28 against Japan. Scotland were content to sit in two banks of four and let the opposition play in front of them, then attempting to channel them down the flanks.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland
Passive Scotland sitting in and attempting to push Japan to wide areas.

However, this allowed Japan’s most influential player on the day, Iwabuchi, to get between their defensive lines and penetrate centrally. As can be seen below Iwabuchi drops deeper into the space between the lines to create space for herself and to be able to receive central passes between Scotland’s central midfielders.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland
Iwabuchi dropping into the space between Scotland’s defensive lines.

This was the Nadeshikos main strength, movement. They controlled the first half due to their movement off the ball and Scotland sticking with a rigid and passive game plan. The statistics at halftime exemplified this showing Japan with 54% ball possession and 11 attempts on goal with Scotland having 46% and two attempts on goal.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 TacticalFIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland Statistics
Iwabuchi again between the lines to receive a central penetrating pass

Japan’s more aggressive approach

Like Scotland, Japan sat in a base defensive 4-4-2 shape. Also, like Scotland, the game plan was to push the opposition into the wide areas. However, their approach was more aggressive. They started with a higher block and quickly pressed on certain triggers.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland Statistics
Japan’s higher starting position

Japan allowed the Scotland centre backs space on the ball. However, if they moved forward they were quickly closed down in an effort to regain quick possession.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 TacticalFIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland Statistics
As Corsie, circled, brings the ball out, she is quickly closed down by Iwabuchi and Sugasawa.

As Corsie, circled above, tries to progress with the ball, this is the trigger for Iwabuchi and Sugasawa to press. This, in turn, forces Corsie to play a long hopeful ball.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 TacticalFIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland Statistics
Corsie forced into playing long as she had no other options.

Another trigger would be when Scotland’s goalkeeper Alexander had the ball safely. Japan would drop off slightly but would press quickly if the ball was rolled or passed to a defender.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 TacticalFIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland Statistics
As Alexander plays the ball to Beattie, Japan engage a full press.

Analysis of Scotland’s half time adjustments

In the second half, Scotland was a more compact side, horizontally and vertically. This was an attempt to nullify Iwabuchi who had controlled the first 45 minutes. By being closer together and being more aware of the strikers’ movements, Scotland was able to close the central passing lanes. Below you can see that Little and Weir shut down the routes to Iwabuchi and Sugasawa.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 TacticalFIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland Statistics
Little and Weir can be seen above shutting down central passing options.

Scotland also started pressing higher and more aggressively in the second half, as can be seen below.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 TacticalFIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Japan vs Scotland Statistics
Scotland starting to apply pressure to Japan in higher areas.

Perhaps the two most important adjustments were Erin Cuthbert who was isolated for most of the first half dropping deeper in behind Ross. The other was the introduction of Claire Emslie on the hour mark. Erin Cuthbert started dropping into space between the lines to receive the ball, forcing the Japanese defenders back in an effort to try and make things happen.

Cuthbert ended the game having touched the ball in the box twice; not enough for such an influential player, while she had 76 actions during the match but only with 47% success. Emslie managed 26 actions in the last 30 minutes with 50% success.

Conclusions 

Japan are experts when it comes to defeating European opposition. Their 2-1 triumph over Scotland means they’ve extended their winning streak Europeans at the World Cup to six matches. This victory was the perfect answer to their critics after a poor goalless draw against lowly Argentina.

Iwabuchi and Sugasawa are a formidable partnership. No one has created more chances than Sugasawa, four, which is the highest total of any player during a single match in Group D so far. While Iwabuchi’s intelligent movement gave Scotland’s defence numerous problems.as

All four goals Scotland have conceded at this World Cup have come during passive opening 45 minutes. This was followed by spirited second halves. Ultimately, the Scots were unable to overturn the deficit left by the poor first halves. Despite a late goal and another strong second-half showing, they must now beat Argentina in style in their final group game to have any chance of reaching the knockout rounds.

Beattie and Corsie are experienced defenders and Corsie’s abilities as a defender and leader are not in question however, her errors were costly. First, a poor Corsie header from a routine cross gifted Japan possession, with Mana Iwabuchi — making her first-ever World Cup start — subsequently picking up the ball in acres of space 20 yards out.

13 minutes later, another routine long ball into Scotland’s penalty area caught Corsie off guard and she wasn’t able to deal Yuika Sugasawa’s run and by placing her arm on the Japanese forward, it again led to a soft penalty.

If they are going to defy the odds and qualify for the latter stages they must start as they finish, cut basic defending errors to a minimum and get Erin Cuthbert on the ball as much as possible.


If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Pre-order your copy of the June issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.