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England are through to the semi finals of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup after a dramatic penalty shootout victory over tournament favourites Japan.
The Japanese had come into the match having scored 17 goals in their three group games but a brilliant defensive display, in which Lucy Bronze - who was in the centre in place of the suspended Jodie Jacobs - and Gemma Bonner were outstanding, plus an injury time wonder goal from Isobel Christiansen, ensured that England kept with them for 120 minutes and now North Korea stand between them and an appearance in the Final.
However it was Japan who got off to the best possible start by taking the lead after eight minutes. Mana Iwabuchi played a reverse pass to Chinatsu Kira who slid her shot past Lauren Davey and inside the far post.
Japan continued to dictate the play at this stage and Davey needed to make a couple of saves to prevent her side from falling further behind. England dug in deep though and they were rewarded on the stroke of half time as Lucy Staniforth made a good run from midfield to bury a low 20-yard shot to level the scores.
The second half was a much tighter affair as England defended with great discipline and Japan produced few efforts on goal. England visibly began to grow in confidence with Christiansen and Jordan Nobbs prominent in midfield while Rebecca Jane and Lauren Bruton began to threaten down the flanks.
Danielle Carter was also looking sharp up front and she was unlucky not to put England in front as she ran at the Japanese defence and carried the ball into the area where her shot was tipped past the post at full stretch by Sakiko Ikeda.
With eight minutes remaining, it looked as though England's efforts would be in vain as Bronze was unable to cut out a through ball and Iwabuchi raced clear on goal and cut in to lift her shot over Davey to put Japan back in front.
The game went into injury time but England were not finished; instead they came up with a stunning reply. There seemed no danger to Japan as Christiansen received the ball 40 yards from goal but she unleashed a shot which dipped over Ikeda and found the top corner of the net for what will surely be the goal of the tournament.
England still needed to survive in the remaining minutes - firstly, Davey pulled off a great save from a Natsuki Kishikawa free kick and from the resulting corner, a huge scramble resulted in a number of efforts being charged down before Bronze denied Yuko Takeyama a certain goal with a great block.
Extra time started with Davey clawing away another Kishikawa free kick but there were few opportunities for either side. England were the brighter side during the second period but again needed to hold on in the dying minutes before the final whistle blew and the game went to penalties.
Each side scored their first two kicks before Davey got down low to save from Natsumi Kameoka. Nobbs, Bruton, Carter and Rachel Pitman all produced fine finishes for England, leaving Bonner with the chance to settle the match in her side's favour with the final penalty. The defender duly capped her brilliant performance with an ice cool finish, finding the top corner of the net and England celebrations began.
England: Lauren Davey, Rachel Daly (sub Stephanie Marsh 58mins), Naomi Chadwick, Lauren Bruton, Lucy Bronze, Gemma Bonner, Rebecca Jane (sub Paige Eli 105mins), Jordan Nobbs, Danielle Carter, Isobel Christiansen, Lucy Staniforth (sub Rachel Pitman 71mins). Subs not used: Amy Carr, Juliana Draycott, Jemma Rose, Sarah Wiltshire, Kirsty Linnett.
Japan: Sakiko Ikeda, Kozue Chiba, Yuiko Inoue (sub Kei Yoshioka 80mins (sub Haruka Hamada 112mins)), Nagisa Okuda, Natsuki Kishikawa, Natsumi Kameoka, Chiaki Shimada (sub Yoko Tanaka 73mins), Yuko Takeyama, Chinatsu Kira, Mana Iwabuchi, Akane Saito. Subs not used: Saki Nakamura, Ayaka Saitoh, Takako Sugiyama, Saori Takahasho, Minami Ishida, Marika Ohshima.
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