England boss Sarina Wiegman lauded the Lionesses’ adaptability after a system shake-up sparked a thumping 6-1 victory over China at the Women’s World Cup.
The Lionesses had not scored more than once in their opening two matches but came alive on a crisp night in front of 13,497 at Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium to seal top spot in Group D.
Wiegman took a gamble as she swapped England’s usual 4-3-3 for a 3-5-2 formation, and she was rewarded with goals from five different players including a brace from Chelsea prodigy Lauren James, who also picked up three assists.
Safely through to the knockout stage… TOGETHER! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/hqNpuMO5fw
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) August 1, 2023
“I think we are growing into this tournament,” said Wiegman, whose side will travel back to their Terrigal, New South Wales base camp before flying to Brisbane to meet Nigeria in the knockout stages.
“I think tonight we had a great performance. Of course we made a choice and went for it.
“Everyone really believed in it [the formation] straight away and you could see that on the pitch. They were really excited about it. We want to use the qualities of the squad as optimal as possible. The team showed they were really adaptable.
“I think you could see from the whole team that we were enjoying ourselves, you could tell that we were really connected, the ball is going around and we have different ways to go in attack, and of course Lauren James was one of them when she scored the goals.
“You saw that the team was enjoying every goal, except the one from China.”
Alessia Russo got things started for England after just four minutes, while a dangerous-looking Lauren Hemp marked her return to Wiegman’s starting XI by doubling England’s advantage.
James struck her first after 41 minutes, but was denied a retrospective hat-trick after Australian referee Casey Reibelt turned to VAR and the stoppage-time strike was chalked off.
Lucy Bronze, who was ruled offside in that build-up, found herself at the wrong end of another call to the monitor after the restart and was aggrieved when she was punished for a handball and China were awarded a penalty, converted by Wang Shuang.
Chloe Kelly and Rachel Daly wrapped up the victory with late strikes.
Bronze said: “I knew it hit my hand, but it wasn’t deliberate.
“Unless I cut my arm off I don’t know how I get my arm out the way. Again, we sit down with referees every tournament to discuss the rules, the rules are if I’m trying to put my hand next to my body.
“I said to the girls she’s going to give the penalty because it hits my hand but [England keeper] Mary [Earps] was behind me, if I was trying to hit the ball away I would have hit my hand in the air. I knew it wasn’t deliberate but I guess she just wanted to give me a yellow card for fun.
“It wasn’t a fun game in that respect, the referee for me. So, I was quite disappointed with that game to come off with that performance. The most important thing is we won, we’re through to the next game, no one else got injured.”
James, who became the first England player to be directly involved in five or more goals in a game at the men’s or women’s World Cup, admitted it would have been the icing on the cake to complete the hat-trick.
She said: “I was disappointed in the moment obviously but that’s football for you. In the moment I just had to be focused for the game to continue.
“I think just playing with freedom, just enjoying my football and I think tonight showed that. Hopefully I can continue doing that and take it into the next round.”