AUGSBURG, Germany (AP) – Germany and England proved that timing is key at the women's World Cup, winning matches when it counts to bounce back and top their respective groups with poise, even some bravado.
With its greatest ever player benched due to poor form, Germany didn't miss Birgit Prinz and two first-half headers compensated for some poor second-half defending to give the hosts a 4-2 win over France to top Group A. Celia Okoyino da Mbabi sealed the match with a fine volley late in the game.
''We showed class,'' said Germany coach Silvia Neid. ''Now we are really into this tournament. The players showed what they are made of.''
So did England.
The team staved off the threat of early elimination with an equally confidence-boosting 2-0 win over Japan. The victory gave it top spot in Group B and produced a stunning goal for the World Cup highlights reel, a 21-meter precision lob from Ellen White.
The results pit Germany against Japan in Wolfsburg and England versus France in Leverkusen on Saturday. Groups C and D are decided on Wednesday, with Brazil, Sweden and the United States already through.
The day featured the first red card, the first penalty - even the first floodlights blackout. But more importantly, the biggest benching of the tournament so far.
Prinz is the competition's all-time top scorer with 14 goals and was expected to hit at least one goal in her fifth straight World Cup. After Germany's best performance so far, it is unclear if Prinz's sullen demeanor will light up again for the next two weeks.
After two one-goal wins, Germany was second behind France and badly needed a win, not only to take the group but also to give the team, and a nation of besotted fans, confidence again.
Four goals did that, even though a weakness at corners revealed an unexpected blind spot.
Instead of Prinz, it was Inka Grings who inspired the team with two goals.
One came from a penalty after France goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz was sent off for swiping Fatmire Bajramaj off her feet, the first red card in 10 days of competition.
The score of 3-1 and 11 against 10 should have allowed Germany to coast, but France came back through Laura Georges' header and even came close to equalizing before Celia Okoyino da Mbabi sent the 45,867 fans at the soldout Borussia Park celebrating into the night.
''Now we want to build on this,'' Okoyino da Mbabi said.
England understands the surging feeling.
After a lackluster first two games, England was spectacular in its decisive game. After 15 minutes, Sophie Bradley sent a deep ball from her half toward Ellen White, who spotted goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori off her line. She let the ball bounce once before lobbing it over Kaihori with exquisite precision from 21 meters out.
In the 66th, England came up with a second quality goal, when Rachel Unitt shrugged off several Japanese defenders to set up substitute forward Rachel Yankey for a delicate chip.
''They were both tremendous finishes,'' said midfield standout Jill Scott.
Japan was supposed to be all about skill while England relied on power and push, but with an inspired performance and great goals, the Europeans disproved those notions.
With the tournament on the line, England was aggressive and played with passion throughout, while Japan rarely thrilled the crowd of 20,777.
''We managed to startle them somewhat,'' England coach Hope Powell said.
The worst miscue of the night? The floodlights that went out in Dresden for 12 minutes. When they came back on, Perpetua Nkwocha gave Nigeria a 1-0 win over Canada in a match between two teams already eliminated.