Soccer

England boss says team can be ‘creative’ if star Lauren James is targeted

England midfielder Keira Walsh could make a stunning comeback after training with the team on Sunday (Zac Goodwin/PA)
England midfielder Keira Walsh could make a stunning comeback after training with the team on Sunday (Zac Goodwin/PA) England midfielder Keira Walsh could make a stunning comeback after training with the team on Sunday (Zac Goodwin/PA)

England boss Sarina Wiegman is confident the Lionesses are capable of getting creative should Nigeria target breakout talent Lauren James in their last-16 clash in Brisbane.

Chelsea forward James was awarded player-of-the-match against China in England’s final group stage contest after contributing two goals and three assists in the 6-1 victory.

Having shown the world just how dangerous she could be, it would not be a surprise if Nigeria head coach Randy Waldrum spent plenty of time planning a corresponding response to mitigate the potent threat posed by the 21-year-old.

Asked if she was prepared for that to happen, England boss Sarina Wiegman grinned and said: “Well, first of all we didn’t make the starting line-up yet.

“But I think some countries mark us and want to take out players. Not only one, but more players. So that’s good when you have so many good players on the pitch that they have to be aware of all those players.

“And we know when players are marked that you find other ways to build or create and hopefully create chances to score goals.

“So we are aware of that and we will be prepared for that.”

England midfielder Keira Walsh could make a stunning comeback after training with the team on Sunda
England midfielder Keira Walsh could make a stunning comeback after training with the team on Sunda England midfielder Keira Walsh could make a stunning comeback after training with the team on Sunday (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Wiegman could be bolstered by the return of midfielder Keira Walsh, who was carried off on a stretcher late in the first half of England’s 1-0 victory over Denmark in their second group stage game.

The knee injury sustained by the 2023 Champions League winner with Barcelona was not as serious as some suspected, and while Wiegman would not disclose Walsh’s specific diagnosis, the FA previously revealed it was not an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and on Sunday the England boss also confirmed it was not a ligament issue.

Walsh also stepped up her recovery on Sunday, joining the other 22 members of the England squad on the Central Coast Stadium pitch before the Lionesses flew to Brisbane ahead of their first match of the knockout stage.

On the eve of the Nigeria clash, Wiegman said: “She is doing well. She started her rehab straight after we knew what was going on.

“She has been on the pitch, she has been training today. Now we will wait until (we see) how she recovers from that training session and if she does well then she is available tomorrow.”

The 2023 World Cup saw the tournament expand to 32 teams for the first time, with some initially worried that the gap between the top and lower-ranked nations would be detrimental.

Yet the reality has so far been the opposite, with four of FIFA’s top 10 sides already eliminated including double-defending champions USA, who crashed out after losing a dramatic penalty shootout to Sweden.

Number two side and Euro 2022 finalists Germany, number seven Olympic champions Canada, and Copa America winners Brazil, ranked eighth, have all been eliminated.

Those giant-slayings – Canada’s at the hands of 40th-ranked Nigeria – also marked the last likely World Cup appearances for icons and pioneers in Brazil’s Marta, Canada’s Christine Sinclair and the USA’s Megan Rapinoe, who missed a penalty against Sweden and announced pre-tournament that she would be retiring at the end of the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season.

Wiegman added: “It is very, very competitive. The development of the game all over the world has gone really quickly, at a very good level.

“But I’m mainly focused on my team and on the next match with my team, so I’m  not into every game. I don’t have the full context, but that’s the main thing I have noticed.”