FRANKFURT, Germany — With a perfect two victories out of two matches, Japan has reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup with flair and a tournament-leading six goals so far. England was saved by a fighting performance to earn another day at the tournament.
Homare Sawa got the World Cup’s first hat trick to lead Japan past Mexico 4-0.
For England, gangly midfielder Jill Scott was just as important with a goal and an assist to resurrect England’s campaign with 2-1 win over New Zealand.
It gave Japan 6 points, two more than England, which will need a draw against the leader next Tuesday to be sure to advance. If England loses, much will depend on the winning margin of Mexico over already-eliminated New Zealand.
Despite all the pre-tournament expectations, England long looked to emulate the men’s team’s tradition of underperforming at the highest stage.
However, Jill Scott scored a second-half header and assisted on Jess Clarke’s crucial strike for the 81st-minute winner.
“We just enjoy making these sort of tournaments hard work,” England coach Hope Powell said, after she had come in for scathing criticism for a 1-1 draw against Mexico in the opener.
“It is never easy, is it?” she said.
And it looked quite difficult after New Zealand grabbed an early lead through Sarah Gregorius, and the underdogs kept England in check for over an hour.
Jill Scott equalized with a most English goal, when the 1.80-meter midfielder rose high in the center to meet Alex Scott’s cross from the right and head it forcefully past goalie Jenny Bindon.
To turn things totally around for England, she won the ball in a goalmouth scramble late in the game and calmly set up Clarke for the winner with a shot that went high into the net.
Suddenly, there is optimism in the England camp for the rest of the tournament. “We are still not at our best,” Powell said. “There is more to come.”
With a bit of luck, that could be a quarterfinal clash with host Germany.
Japan had no such trouble. It routed Mexico 4-0 thanks to Sawa’s superb performance.
“I didn’t dare imagine that I would score three goals,” said the 32-year-old captain, playing in her fifth World Cup.