Hindmarsh (Agencies): Lauren James produced a sensational individual performance as England entertained to sweep aside China and book their place in the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup as group winners.
It was a display worthy of their status as European champions and James once again lit the stage alight in Adelaide with two sensational goals and three assists.
The 13,497 in attendance were treated to a masterclass from Chelsea’s James, who announced her arrival at the World Cup with the match-winner against Denmark on Friday.
She helped England get off to the perfect start when she teed up Alessia Russo for the opener, and later slipped the ball through to Lauren Hemp to coolly place it into the bottom corner.
It was largely one-way traffic as England dominated and overwhelmed, James striking it first time into the corner from the edge of the box to make it 3-0 before another stunning finish was ruled out by video assistant referee (VAR) for offside in the build-up.
China knew they were heading out of the tournament unless they responded, so they came out with more aggression in the second half, unnerving England slightly when Shuang Wang scored from the penalty spot after VAR picked up a handball by defender Lucy Bronze.
But James was not done yet – she volleyed Jess Carter’s deep cross past helpless goalkeeper Yu Zhu for England’s fourth before substitute Chloe Kelly and striker Rachel Daly joined the party.
England, who had quietly gone about their business in the group stages, will have raised eyebrows with this performance before their last-16 match against Nigeria on Monday, which will be shown live on BBC One at 08:30 BST. China are out of the competition after Denmark beat Haiti to finish in second place in Group D.
England prove worth without Walsh
Manager Sarina Wiegman kept everyone guessing when she named her starting XI, with England fans anxiously waiting to see how they would set up without injured midfielder Keira Walsh. Wiegman’s response was to unleash England’s attacking talent on a China side who struggled to match them in physicality, intensity and sharpness.
James oozed magic and unpredictability, Hemp used her pace to test China’s defence and captain Millie Bright was ferocious in her tackling, winning the ball back on countless occasions.
After nudging past Haiti and Denmark with fairly underwhelming 1-0 wins, England were keen to impose themselves from the start. Although China had chances in the second half, they were always second best.
Goalkeeper Mary Earps will be disappointed not to keep a clean sheet, but she made two smart saves to deny Chen Qiaozhu. While England are yet to meet a side ranked inside the world’s top 10 at the tournament, this will help quieten doubts that they might struggle without the instrumental Walsh.
“We’re really growing into the tournament now,” said captain Bright. “We got a lot of criticism in the first two games but we were not concerned at all.
“It’s unbelievable to be in the same team as [the youngsters]. It feels ridiculous and I’m quite proud. Players feeling like they can express themselves on the pitch is what we want.”
James given standing ovation
The name on everyone’s lips following England’s win over Denmark was ‘Lauren James’, and those leaving Adelaide on Tuesday evening will struggle to forget her performance against China any time soon. She punished China for the space they allowed her on the edge of the box in the first half and could have had a hat-trick were it not for the intervention of VAR.
Greeted on the touchline by a grinning Wiegman, James was substituted with time to spare in the second half and went off to a standing ovation from large sections of the stadium. “She’s special – a very special player for us and for women’s football in general,” said Kelly. “She’s a special talent and the future is bright.” She became only the third player on record (since 2011) to be directly involved in five goals in a Women’s World Cup game.
Harder stars as Danes beat Haiti to book last-16 spot: Denmark booked their place in the World Cup last 16 with a 2-0 win over Haiti to finish second in Group D behind England.
Haiti were undone by a penalty for a third game in a row, with Pernille Harder scoring from the spot after Dayana Pierre-Louis’ handball. Sanne Troelsgaard sealed the Danes’ progression to the knockout stages with a second goal deep into injury time.
Denmark face Group B winners and co-hosts Australia in Sydney on Monday. It will be Denmark’s first World Cup knockout match in 28 years, since they lost to Norway in the quarter-finals of the 1995 tournament.
Ranked 13th in the world, the Danes were guaranteed of a place in the round of 16 with a win and a better outcome than China’s result against England in the other match in the group.
Haiti, meanwhile, needed a victory and the Lionesses to beat China if they were to have any chance of reaching the last 16.
Denmark, who failed to get out of their group at last summer’s European Championships, raced out of the blocks in Perth.
Simone Boye thought she had netted the opener after just five minutes, but after a Video Assistant Referee delay, her effort was eventually chalked off for offside. VAR did not come to Haiti’s rescue, though, when the ball struck Pierre-Louis’ arm in the penalty area and referee Jeong Oh-hyeon pointed to the spot without the aid of the pitch-side monitor.
Harder, who signed for Bayern Munich earlier this summer, sent goalkeeper Kerly Theus the wrong way in the 21st minute as she scored the 100th goal of this year’s tournament. The former Chelsea forward shone throughout for Denmark, finding the back of the net on two more occasions, only for both to be ruled out – the first was flagged for offside while the second was ruled out by VAR after Signe Bruun’s late challenge on Theus.
Melchie Dumornay, who impressed against England and China, once again proved to be Haiti’s biggest attacking threat.
But their late charge for a first-ever World Cup goal allowed Denmark to counter-attack with venom and Lars Sondergaard’s side got their second when Troelsgaard calmly slotted home when through one-on-one with Theus.