Football Features

“The only bright spark” – Lauren James shines as underwhelming England move to brink of Women’s World Cup knockout stages

By Harry Edwards

Published: 11:44, 28 July 2023

England took a big step towards the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup thanks to their 1-0 win over Denmark.

The Lionesses won their first game of the tournament 1-0 against Haiti but it wasn’t a comfortable or reassuring victory against the debutants with Georgia Stanway scoring the only goal from a retaken penalty.

There were fears from before the World Cup that hadn’t been allayed, particularly with regards to struggles in front of goal even with Stanway finding the net. One of the main questions was the starting striker role with Alessia Russo picked ahead of Rachel Daly, and calls for the latter to lead the line against Denmark.

Daly did indeed start against Denmark but it was back to her Euro 2022 role of left-back, with Russo still leading the line, one of two changes Sarina Wiegman made to her starting XI — having made none in the European Championships last summer. The other change was brining Lauren James in for Lauren Hemp and that proved to be crucial.

Starting on the wing, James gave Rikke Sevecke a tough evening in Australia, completing four of her five attempted take-ons and 88.64% of her passes. But she weaved her magic most when cutting inside and that’s where we saw James make the impact for England, scoring the only goal of the game.

Picking up the ball from Daly, James moved slightly deeper to pull herself away from her markers before quickly turning and beating the opposition defender. Opening up just enough space, James curled the ball from outside the area into the far corner of the net for a goal on her first major tournament start.

It was also the first goal England has scored from open play in five hours and 43 minutes since Ella Toone’s strike against Brazil in the Women’s Finalissima in April. The goal came as part of a bright start for England and the opening 20 minutes where really theirs, with three more shots on target including two from James — no player had more.

“If you look at the average position that Lauren James has picked up in the game, she’s narrow, she’s infield as a second No.10,” Fara Williams said on BBC’s coverage of the game.

“It causes the full-back a problem, they don’t know if they’re going with her to pick up her or not because you’ve got Rachel Daly who’s occupying the wing and keeping the defender on it.

“And if you give a player like Lauren James that much time and space in central areas she can produce finishes like she’s just done there.


“That’s the position I like to see her in and I’m happy that Sarina [Wiegman’s] given her the license to actually play that infield position because that’s where she’s at her best. Out on the flank you lose a lot of her really good attributes.”

But after the 20-minute mark, England did drop off and they didn’t have another shot on target, particularly struggling to get Russo into the game. There was also a real sour note when Keira Walsh went down 10 minutes before half time with an injury, almost immediately signalling to be taken off and telling the physio “I’ve done my knee”.

She was carried off on a stretcher and replaced by Laura Coombs, with Stanway dropping into the No.6 role. The lynchpin of England’s Euro 2022 win, it could prove a killer for their World Cup hopes.

Denmark stepped up in the second half but couldn’t find their breakthrough with Amalie Vangsgaard going closest with a late header hitting the post, having beaten Daly to the challenge and left Mary Earps rooted to the spot. But in the end, James’ sixth-minute strike proved to be the winner, and Williams believes England’s more senior players can learn from the 21-year-old.

“She was the only bright spark for England,” Williams continued on James.

“After that 20-minute period, the only quality in this Lionesses team can pretty much be Lauren James. We just need players around her, for somebody so young to control the rhythm of our play the way she did, in all areas of the pitch.

“I think some of the more experienced players need to take a leaf out of her book.”

England aren’t yet in the knockout stages but could see their spot sealed if China fail to beat Haiti.