The English Women's National Team coached by Phil Neville earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Japan on Sunday afternoon but did little to dissuade skeptics. Despite Japan's egregious errors, England was unable to take advantage until the 84th minute, a fact that may have galvanized the team internally but not convinced many watching.
"I didn't sense relief," Neville responded when asked about the team's celebration after getting the win. "It will give us the ability to start building a new team spirit, a new togetherness. You can't manufacture togetherness. We've been talking all week ... that trust in each other, you can't manufacture it."
Neville changed things up after the disastrous start to the SheBelieves Cup midweek by starting Bethany England. The move showed that the team is still undecided about who will lead the line. England did her best at times, sniping more than a few bad passes from the Japanese defense, but couldn't beat goalkeeper Sakiko Ikeda. Ellen White's inclusion late in the game only exacerbated the situation after scoring on her first attempt.
"Obviously I'm disappointed in myself for not putting a few of them [chances] away," said England about her performance. "Thankfully Ellen does what she does best and put it in the back of the net."
SheBelieves has provided Neville with his best proving ground outside of the Euro qualifiers. Thus far this year they have underwhelmed with a lackluster performance against USA and a less than convincing showing against Japan. Spain leaves England with one more opportunity to course correct before the Olympics in the summer.
Without qualifiers for the Euros, England is left to rely on competitions like SheBelieves to formulate their future game plan. This week Neville, who has drawn the ire of fans and pundits, will have a chance to prove his process has progressed should he escape with two wins out of three games.
"It's good for everyone to say: There's a good future, a bright future," said Neville. "Spain will be a step up from what we faced today. Today is a baby step forward."
England's last game of SheBelieves will be against Spain on Wednesday evening.