By Thomas Reynolds
Last Updated: 19th June 2019
England are through to the knockout stages of the 2019 Women’s World Cup after two successive victories by one goal-margins and their final Group D outing is expected to be another tight affair.
That’s the view of former Lionesses Sue Smith and Faye White and QPR ace Sam Miller, who have previewed Phil Neville’s side’s clash with Japan for William Hill.
England are 23/20 favourites for a victory in Nice, although they only need a 2/1-rated draw to ensure they seal top spot in the section and a favourable draw in the round-of-16.
If they are to prevail in what’s expected to be another nip-tuck encounter, the return to fitness of Barcelona forward Toni Duggan and the potential rekindling of her profitable international partnership with Chelsea star Fran Kirby could be the difference maker.
Duggan return a big bonus for England ahead of the knockout stages
Former Manchester City star Duggan may not have found the net in her last 12 outings for the Lionesses, but having her back in contention after a thigh strain is still massive for Neville.
The 27-year-old was the joint-top-scoring English women in this season’s Champions League alongside Kirby with five goals – only three other players notched more in the competition.
Neville may choose to re-introduce the Barcelona forward from the bench in order to ease her back in ahead of the knockout rounds.
However, having two such dangerous schemers in attack, even for a short period, could provide the breakthrough, with Duggan having bagged the opener on the last three occasions she scored for her country.
Two of those, a World Cup qualifying strike against Wales and a SheBelieves Cup hit against France, were assisted by Kirby too.
Duggan is 7/1 to score first and is trading at the same odds in the England vs Japan to score last betting.
With two of the three William Hill Women’s World Cup pundits foreseeing England netting twice, centre-half Steph Houghton makes some appeal at first scorer odds of 25/1.
It was Duggan who set up the Lionesses skipper for her most recent goal, with an astute lay-off allowing Houghton to curl in a SheBelieves Cup equaliser against the USA in March.