For long periods the only positive was that no fans were present to see this. Then Ellen White did what Ellen White does and all was well with Team GB’s world.
A frustrating evening at the empty Sapporo Dome looked as though it was heading for a goalless stalemate. Japan, robbed of a roaring home crowd, appeared to be stripped of any ambition.
Content to defend from deep, they dealt comfortably with anything that Hege Riise’s charges – themselves playing with two holding midfielders – could muster.
Ellen White runs away in celebration after her header put Great Britain ahead against Japan
The match was settled in the 74th minute as Manchester City forward White headed home
White ran to the near post to leap ahead of the Japanese goalkeeper and a defender to score
The celebrations continued on the touchline after White’s header settled the contest
But the great players can strike when least expected. And it is safe to say that when the relentless Lucy Bronze heaved over a hopeful cross after 74 uneventful minutes, few expected anything.
Few that is, apart from White. The lethal Manchester City striker, whose two goals lifted Team GB beyond Chile in their opener, sensed her moment.
A hint of hesitation from Ayaka Yamashita in the Japan goal, and the opportunity was there. White shot off the mark, edged in front of her defender and with one neat flick guided the ball over the stranded stopper and into the far corner net.
Mina Tanaka wins a header under pressure from Great Britain’s Leah Williamson in the first half
The ball drops for Great Britain’s Steph Houghton to shoot but she couldn’t find the target
Lauren Hemp of Great Britain is crowded out by Japan’s Honoka Hayashi (left) and Risa Shimizu during the first half in Sapporo
Lucy Bronze (left) attempts to get clear of Japan’s Mina Tanaka during a tight opening period
Great Britain (4-2-3-1): Roebuck; Bronze, Houghton, Williamson, Stokes; Walsh, Ingle (Weir 59); Parris (Daly 76), Little (c) (Scott 88), Hemp (Stanway 89); White
Substitutes not used: Telford (GK); Bright, Charles
Coach: Hege Riise
Scorer: White 74
Japan (4-4-2): Yamashita; Shimizu, Kumagai (c), Minami, Miyagawa; Shiokoshi (Momiki 56), Nakajima (Iwabuchi 81), Sugita, Hasegawa; Hayashi (Miura 68), Tanaka (Endo 68)
Substitutes not used: Ikeda (GK); Sugasawa, Takarada
Coach: Asako Takakura
Booked: Hayashi, Yamashita
Referee: A. Pustovoitova (ROC)
As simple as that, Team GB were through to the next round.
‘It was a great goal,’ said Riise, who has quickly made her mark on a growing squad.
‘That’s the small margin, that’s the detail that often excellent players bring. That moment was game changing and that is why she is a top scorer.’
Canada await in the final group game. It will offer another opportunity to continue a gelling project that already seems to be in the final stages, despite a serious lack of warm-up matches. Riise will also get the opportunity to make more changes.
‘Two wins puts us in a good position,’ she added.
‘We are able to rest players and recover well. We are very happy with how we sued the team and how the squad responded.
‘None of them played badly against Chile and a few of them did not play tonight. This squad is amazing and I am pleased with them.’
Riise has good reason to be happy. Group-topping Team GB are yet to concede.
They look well-drilled, fit and composed. And if their star striker continues to fire, the future may well be red, White and blue.
Great Britain’s Hemp fights for the ball with Honoka Hayashi of Japan in Sapporo
Sophie Ingle stretches to make a tackle to try and win the ball from Japan’s Yui Hasegawa