China 1-6 England: Lionesses cruise to Group D victory against China

The Lionesses were in prime position to secure their place in the knockouts, starting their clash against China as the top team in group D. A point would be enough to send the European Champions through to face co-hosts Australia in the Round of 16 – but for the Steel Roses, victory was essential to progression with results favouring them. England saw this as a clash to build momentum ahead of the knockouts, but for their Asian opponents, it was a last chance at preserving their record of perfect group stage progression in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

CHN: Zhu, Chen, Yao, Wang, Li, Zhang, Yang, Yao, Wang, Lou, Wu

ENG: Earps, Greenwood, Carter, Bright, Bronze, Daly, Zelem, Stanway, James, Russo, Hemp

Doubts and concerns have been sown into every report on England’s performance at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. With only slender victories over Haiti and Denmark, questions were asked of Sarina Wiegman’s side, and the Lionesses were determined to set the record straight and it showed from the very start of the match. 

England were in control from minute one as they sought to wear down China with their quick piercing passing. It didn’t take long for the Lionesses to find the breakthrough to set the tone for the match – as with a stroke of individual brilliance, Alessio Russo collected the ball on the left wing to play a teasing ball into the box. It was cleared only momentarily as she moved into the box for Lauren James to give her back the ball. With a sublime first touch and turn, Russo finished low to the keeper’s right to hand England an early lead that would serve as an warning sign of things to come.

England remained in complete control of the half with China struggling to get out of their own box. Each attack the Steel Roses managed to contain was only a momentary break from the England onslaught, as Russo continued to impress with her darting runs that caused China constant problems on the left wing. She almost managed to add an assist to her goal in the 13th minute with a brilliant low ball into Hemp, who couldn’t quite find the finish.

England’s dominance remained relentless as they enjoyed 78% possession in the first 20 minutes. It kept China suppressed and unable to respond, as they waited for the next goal that only seemed inevitable for them. It was then cruel irony for the Steel Roses, as when they finally managed to break into the England half, the Lionesses scored their second. After some brilliant defensive work from Millie Bright to start the counterattack, Lauren James took possession and played Lauren Hemp through with a stunning first touch to place her in the perfect position to score England’s second. It was England at their best.  

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With England boasting a commanding lead deserving of their brilliance, China looked defeated and ready to head home for the remainder of the half. The Lionesses remained in firm control of possession with China failing to even get close, as they looked for more to add to their tally. Chances continued to come for England with Bronze and Stanway continuing to test the Chinese keeper. With only minutes left to spare in the first half, England won a free-kick in the right corner of China’s half. Lauren James lingered on the edge of the box, with no marking of any kind from a Chinese player. It was then all too easy when she received the ball to score a sublime goal into the right corner – all but sealing England’s place in the knockouts, and China’s ticket home. 

Lauren James had already impressed with her performance throughout the first half, and finally had her goal to show for it. With merely seconds remaining in the first half, she continued her strong performance with another stunning goal from the edge of the box into the right corner. It somehow eclipsed the brilliance of her first goal – undoubtedly being the best of England’s strikes. However, life is often cruel and after a VAR decision, Lucy Bronze was found to have been offside in the build-up. It did little to take away from England’s stunning performance in the first half, but took away what surely would have been a contender for goal of the tournament. 

As the teams returned to the dressing room for half-time, England had a dominant three-goal lead with Alessia Russo and Lauren James being the stars of this brilliant side. China looked defeated, and there was no debate as to why. Sarina Wiegman therefore looked to take the foot off the gas for England, by taking off Stanway at half-time. It would also mitigate the risk of her being suspended for the next round, with the Bayern Munich star carrying a yellow card from a previous fixture.

While England looked to remain in control, their momentum slowed in their passing and attacking build-up – ahe Steel Roses were able to enjoy more possession in the first 15 minutes of the second half. It led to China winning a corner, ultimately winning a penalty as ucy Bronze was adjudged to have handled the ball on the line following a VAR review. She received a harsh booking for it, as Wang Shuang lined up the ball on the spot before sending it down the middle as Earps committed to diving left.

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England looked to respond quickly to China’s goal to ensure it was nothing more than consolation. With her brilliant second goal being painfully disallowed, Lauren James sought to play a crucial role in England’s response. Less than 10 minutes after China’s goal, Jess Carter brought the ball forward on the right wing to feed in a curling cross to Lauren James in free space. She found sublime contact on the volley to send it across goal, scoring her second goal of the game – and England’s fourth. It nullified any fight still left in China and Wiegman consequently felt it was the right time to replace Bronze, Russo and Hemp with Charles, England and Kelly respectively.

However, it didn’t end England’s hunger for goals, as the substitutes looked to make their mark on the game and get their name on the scoresheet. The Lionesses had already impressed with stunning precision and attacking prowess – evident in the quality of their goals. However, not every goal can be world-class and sometimes mistakes open the easiest avenue for scoring. In the 77th minute, China keeper Zhu Yu opened this avenue for Chloe Kelly by completing misjudging the ball as she looked to clear it. It left an open net for Kelly to place the ball in – handing England their fifth goal of an utterly dominant performance. 

The onslaught continued mere minutes later with Rachel Daly adding her name to the scoresheet. England continued to press by sending cross after cross into the box, where the ball ping-ponged through players. It eventually set up a perfect chance for Daly to volley it in from close range to give the Lionesses their sixth goal of the match. 

The Lionesses saw off the rest of the match in control to complete their utter annihilation of the Steel Roses. It ends China’s perfect record of group stage progression in the FIFA Women’s World Cup as they’ll be joining Haiti on the plane home. While China haven’t been in their best form, England’s destruction of them is no less impressive. Doubts have lingered over their ability with poor performances against Haiti and Denmark – but this might just be the performance that sends the message to the world that England have arrived, and they’re here to compete. 

The result means England top Group D as they progress to the round-of-sixteen. The Lionesses will play Nigeria next Monday as they look to continue their momentum – but the question now is are they ready to compete for the ultimate prize?

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