Lauren James In, Or Lauren James Out? Wiegman's Major World Cup Final Dilemma

England face Spain in the Women's World Cup final on Sunday
12:00, 19 Aug 2023

Sarina Wiegman doesn’t look like she worries about anything. But the main debate going back and forth in her head before the World Cup final on Sunday will be what to do with Lauren James. 

The England star was the standout player for the Lionesses in the tournament, right up to the point when she stamped on Michelle Alozie in the last-16 match against Nigeria. That earned her a two-match ban, and England have done incredibly well in her absence, reaching the final in style. But should Wiegman bring her back into the starting XI, or leave her on the bench? We look at both sides of the debate to try to come up with an answer. 

Leave her out!

England have grown into this tournament. Despite all that has been thrown their way, Wiegman has adapted this team into one that looks to have found the winning formula. The opening two group matches were a struggle, and although James scored the winner in the Denmark game, it felt like the team were relying on a moment of individual brilliance. 

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She provided that against a decent Denmark team, and scored twice more against China, but the team has put in their two best performances of the World Cup without her. The quarter-final against Colombia was a tough test, but with Ella Toone placed in the number 10 role behind Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp, England came from behind. 

It also isn’t a coincidence that the front two are finding more goals now that James has been out of the team, as the unselfish Toone is able to supply them with more ammunition, rather than driving on and inhibiting the forwards' space. In both the quarter-final and semi-final wins, Russo and Hemp got on the scoresheet to win the matches for the Lionesses. Without James, England have been simply superb. 

There’s also the argument that she doesn’t deserve to start the final. With her act of stupidity, she almost cost England their place at this World Cup and they only just got through a game they should have lost, via penalties. Why should Toone lose her place to somebody who almost cost the entire squad their shot at winning a World Cup?

If she does start, and plays badly, she will be the scapegoat. The safer bet would be to hold her back on the bench, and unleash her when England need a goal. The Lionesses have proved they can hold their own without the Chelsea star, but she can be the X factor needed to win the World Cup from the bench. It would certainly terrify Spain to see her preparing to come on around the hour mark. She can still be the heroine of this piece, but her impact is likely to be greater from the bench. 

JAMES PUT ENGLAND'S WORLD CUP AT RISK AGAINST NIGERIA
JAMES PUT ENGLAND'S WORLD CUP AT RISK AGAINST NIGERIA

Bring her back!

If there’s one thing the group stage taught us, it’s that England simply don't have another player like James. She’s now the standout talent of this squad, and arguably the greatest player at this tournament. 

When England needed to beat Denmark, she stepped up. With one touch she opened up her body before curling the ball perfectly into the far corner. Against China, she put in a perfect 10 performance, with two goals and three assists. She should have had a hat-trick as well, having a wonder-goal harshly ruled out for offside. No other player could have done what she did in that game, and she fired England to the top of their group.

The only reason the Lionesses enjoyed a favourable run is because James fired them to top spot in the group. What she did against Nigeria was stupid, make no mistake about it, but she is far too good to be left out in a World Cup final. 

England need match-winners, and they don’t want to be left with regret. They’ve done well in spite of James’ absence over the past two matches, not because of it. Toone is a talented option, but in a game like this, you need the Chelsea forward on the pitch for as long as possible. Simple as that. 

This could be a game of fine margins, or one in which a moment of magic wins it. England have one player with more star quality than any other. She’s the match-winner. She deserves her shot at redemption. Leaving her on the bench could cost them the World Cup. 

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