Lauren James shines as Lionesses destroy China to reach World Cup last 16

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Lauren James of England celebrates with teammate Rachel Daly after scoring her team
Lauren James of England celebrates with teammate Rachel Daly after scoring her team's fourth goal against China (Image: Photo by Naomi Baker)

Lauren James again starred as England confirmed their last 16 place at the FIFA Women's World Cup with a 6-1 thrashing of China to ensure they topped Group D

Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp put Sarina Wiegman's side in control early on, before two stunning finishes from the superb James capped another outstanding performance, as the Lionesses strolled past the Asian Cup holders. James was also denied another by a VAR offside call and claimed a trio of assists as England dominated.

The only blip came when Mary Earps was beaten for the first time in the tournament by Wang Shuang’s penalty, after an on-field VAR review adjudged Lucy Bronze to have handled in the area. But the Lionesses had the final say as James got her second before late strikes from Chloe Kelly and Rachel Daly added some gloss on the scoreline.

The win books a knockout stage showdown with Nigeria in Brisbane on Monday. Sarina Wiegman, who switched away from a 4-3-3 system for the first time at this tournament, was rewarded with England's most complete display so far.

Here are the big talking points from Adelaide.

Earps reacts to FIFA Best nomination and on season so far with Man Utd erideuiqtqiqdrinvEarps reacts to FIFA Best nomination and on season so far with Man Utd

Lauren James lights up Adelaide

Widely tipped as one of the breakout stars at this World Cup, Lauren James looks almost untouchable right now. Unleashed in a number ten role, she tormented China from the off.

Her two goals showed a player at the top of her game, with the first a wonderful curling finish reminiscent of her goal against Denmark. Had VAR not ruled Lucy Bronze as interfering when coming back from an offside position, James would have had a hat-trick, finding the net with a fine finish just before the break.

The second that counted came at the only time the Lionesses were looking a little shaky. A wonderful ball from club teammate Jess Carter. James met the ball on the run and produced a superb volley that flew beyond Zhu Yu. A classy finish, fitting of the big occasion. Maintain this form and she might even be in contention for the golden boot. When she finally departed in the 80th minute, the capacity crowd at the Hindmarsh Stadium gave her a standing ovation.

Lauren James shines as Lionesses destroy China to reach World Cup last 16Lauren James strikes again for England (Photo by Naomi Baker)

Russo and Hemp lead the way as England find goals

Sarina Wiegman said after the Haiti game she wanted her team to show more ruthlessness in front of goal. Pairing Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp together upfront gave the attacking ammunition needed.

The game was barely four minutes old when Russo buried her first chance inside the penalty area. It feel like a massive moment in her England career, particularly after Beth England's impressive cameo against Denmark and her missed chances against Haiti.

The Lionesses No.23 played like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders after, linking up superbly with Hemp and working the channels. Russo was such a threat at one stage the Chinese defence resorted to pulling her hair to stop her in the air. Hemp then added a goal made in Chelsea, after excellent play from James and Millie Bright, in the 26 minute. From that point on, the Lionesses were out to put on a show.

Lauren James shines as Lionesses destroy China to reach World Cup last 16Lauren Hemp of England scores her team's second goal against China (Photo by Maddie Meyer)

Wiegman tinkers with the tactics

Hemp and Russo were able to play together upfront for the first time due to Sarina Wiegman's tactical change. The Dutch coach is normally fairly rigid in her team selections and preferred system, but decided to go with a 3-4-1-2. This saw Jess Carter join captain Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood in a back three, with Katie Zelem replacing the injured Keira Walsh and stepping into midfield. Rachel Daly and Lucy Bronze took up wing-back roles.

It worked a treat. The Lionesses looked far more comfortable in possession than in their other two games and created chances almost at will. Bright in particular looked more commanding in the new system, while James excelled in the No.10 role. Any danger of the European Champions becoming tactically one dimensional was blown away in the first half an hour.

Zelem shows her worth

Man Utd's Katie Zelem was the intriguing name on the teamsheet. Wiegman had turned to Laura Coombs when Keira Walsh went off against Denmark. But with Walsh still recovering back at the team base in Terrigal, tonight was Zelem's chance to show what she can bring to the team. Taking up a deeper role in midfield, protecting the back three, the United skipper was efficient and composed on the ball.

She also gave England a fresh option from set-pieces. If Walsh's tournament is over, Zelem showed she is stable deputy in the Lionesses' engine room.

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Lauren James shines as Lionesses destroy China to reach World Cup last 16Katie Zelem put in a decent display against China

VAR again finds a way to intervene

England's run of not conceding at this tournament was ended by Shaung's second half penalty. But this was only given after a lengthy VAR review that also featured the ridiculous microphone style announcement, which was barely audible for those inside the stadium.

Lucy Bronze was adjudged to have handled a skidding ball across the face of goal, that she barely would have had a micro-second to think about. A clear and obvious error it certainly wasn't. VAR seems to always find a way of getting involved at this tournament and sadly tonight the Lionesses were the victim of a farcical decision.

Now for the real business as tougher tests await

After the stuttering nature of England's wins over Haiti and Denmark, it was important they played with confidence and authority tonight. Thankfully they gave easily their best display of the tournament so far.

China offered little in the first half but the Lionesses were composed on the ball and found their scoring touch in front of goal. It was exactly the sort of display Wiegman will have wanted. Daly's fine finish that got her in on the act, was the sign of a team who had found their ruthless streak again.

But as with the Euros last summer, the hard work only truly starts now. Nigeria will be tricky customers in the last 16 having already deservedly beaten co-hosts Australia. England must maintain the intensity and quality they showed tonight if they are serious about winning the World Cup.

Jack Lacey-Hatton

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