James-Inspired England Starting To Find Their Peak As World Champs USA Limp On

Sarina Wiegman's side beat China 6-1 on Tuesday
14:05, 01 Aug 2023

England’s best performance by far at the Women’s World Cup sees them win again to finish the group stage with a maximum nine points. On the same day, the reigning champion United States scrape through by the slimmest of margins after a somewhat fortunate second 0-0 draw in succession.

As instructive days in the World Cup go, this might have been one of the more telling ones. Sure, England still have lots of question marks over the strength in depth they will need if they are to compete right down to the final on August 20. And yes, the USA made it through despite the unconvincing nature of their results and performances. But the brilliance of Lauren James and the adaptability being displayed by Sarina Wiegman suggests the Lionesses have so much more to give.

Their 6-1 victory over China came off the back of a dynamic attacking display the like of which we hadn’t previously seen at this tournament save for the opening 20 minutes against Denmark. Katie Zelem’s promotion to the starting XI to make up for the loss of the injured Keira Walsh was an inspired move from head coach Wiegman.


The Manchester United captain dovetailed perfectly with Georgia Stanway in the centre of the park ahead of a three-player defence as England pulled the Chinese back line this way and that. The Lionesses were threatening from the off, with Rachel Daly and Lucy Bronze pushed up into wing-back roles to give the midfielders more ammunition when on the ball and Lauren James primed to cause havoc as a number 10.

Daly’s presence higher up the field also helped to give Lauren Hemp greater freedom to roam alongside Alessia Russo, and when she was released by her strike partner in the fourth minute the Manchester City wide player was able to cut back a dangerous ball which China failed to clear and Russo slotted home at the near post from James’ cushioned header.

Later in the first half, Hemp moved inside once more to find space on the shoulder of the last defender, then took James’ pass brilliantly with her first touch before firing in with her second. By the time James had slammed a third in from a pre-planned set-piece, England had the ideal cushion which was every inch deserved.


For their part China looked like rabbits caught in headlights. Seeing England come out in a 3-4-1-2 seemed to immediately put Shui Qingxai’s side on the back foot. Out on the field they simply had no answer, and it was only after they’d had a chance to regroup at half-time that they appeared to carry any sort of threat.

Their goal might be counted as fortunate, a debatable Var decision resulting in a penalty for a handball by Bronze, with Wang Shuang converting after a lengthy review. But James’ superb left-foot volley from Jess Carter’s deep cross put paid to any fears of a comeback, then substitute Chloe Kelly tapped in after a Chinese goalkeeping howler and Daly finished off the scoring with a sweeping finish as England again attacked from all angles.

The European champions are certain to come up against more tactically adaptable teams before this competition is over, but this was an Adelaide evening on which the watching world got its first true glimpse of what this group can really do. Their previous struggles to create goalscoring opportunities of any great quality or quantity could not have been banished further from the mind.

Meanwhile, the two-time reigning champs have a way to go to suggest they are even close to their former selves following their close shave against Portugal. They’ve ended up finishing second in Group E and now face a dangerous Sweden side. Not since their opening match have the Americans scored a goal or even looked like a fully functioning attacking unit.

But England are growing into the tournament. They face Nigeria at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on Monday, and a victory in that clash would tee them up for a run-in played exclusively at the showpiece Accor Stadium in Sydney from the quarter-finals onwards. In a tournament being hosted across an entire continent, such stability must not be under-rated.

And after this latest performance, the on-field prospects are beginning to match the logistical positivity, with the global breakout of Lauren James fast becoming the story of the World Cup. England are clicking into gear at the right time, and their brightest star looks more than ready for the big stage.


*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

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