Lauren James arrives on global stage – but is denied historic World Cup hat-trick by farcical Var

Lauren James denied historic World Cup hat-trick by farcical Var

Lauren James celebrates scoring her second goal in England’s 6-1 trouncing of China – Getty Images/Andy Cheung

Lauren James is a player of few words, but when you have magic in your feet they tend to do the talking for you.

In that respect she is the Harry Potter of this England team. Having scored her first goal at a World Cup with a sublime curling shot against Denmark, James took her game to another level against China.

She was superb, scoring twice and creating another three goals in a destructive performance in an England team that has finally found its swagger at this World Cup.

As good as the goal against the Danes was, it was just a small taste of what she is capable of. This was the full banquet and what a feast to tuck into.

In a new 3-5-2 formation, James played in the number 10 role behind a front two of Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp, roaming in the pockets of space between midfield and attack – and she took the chance to show the world she is one of the most exciting young players on the planet.

Her first goal, a nonchalant first-time shot from a set-piece routine, sweeping the ball into the top corner, at the perfect speed and angle to dissect a crowded penalty area, was excellent.

But her second was extraordinary, watching a deep cross from Jess Carter drop out of the sky, at speed, and then connecting with the ball with a perfectly controlled side-footed volley. The technique was exquisite, the body shape to keep the ball down and on target, while on the run, is a skill few players in the world could execute. James made it look like she was stroking a shot into an empty goal at her local park. Her celebration was muted. She is used to doing things like this in training, the only difference is that we were all watching this time. She did not seem to notice, preferring to take the acclaim of her team-mates rather than bask in the adulation of the crowd.

The buzz of excitement surrounding James heading into this tournament was already there, but her life is going to be transformed after this. She will be a heavily marked woman from now on, but she looks like someone who will not let any of that worry her. Besides, the silky touches are combined with strength and power.

In her post-match press conference as player of the match, James was unflustered and unfussed, possibly even unbothered by all the attention. Team-mates have called her shy but added she has an iron-like will and huge self-belief. She was asked two questions and answered both of them in a total of 57 words. The answers are not really worth repeating, but the key phrases that leapt out were that she is “playing with freedom” and “enjoying” herself first and foremost.

Lauren James (second from left) arrives on global stage – but farcical Var denies her an historic World Cup hat-trick

James (second from left) “enjoying” herself after scoring England’s third goal against China – PA/Isabel Infantes

Some people do not like speaking in public and James, whose brother, Reece, is also an England international, appears to be one of them. We do not need every Lioness to be a character, an influencer or a campaigner. We want them, first and foremost, to be good at playing football and James is one of England’s best. This is her tournament to shape now.

The only travesty was that she did not get a hat-trick of goals to go with the hat-trick of assists – the header back to Russo, the pass with the outside of her boot to Hemp and the through ball for Chloe Kelly.

The 21-year-old was denied a famous trio by a farcical intervention from the Var officials, who decided that even though the ball had bounced to Lucy Bronze – who was retreating from an offside position and was not active in the first phase of play – off the back of a jumping China defender, she had not meant to play the ball.

James has been threatening to do this on the global stage for some time. At Chelsea they have known for a while just how special she can be. Indeed, as she worked on live television coverage back home, her club manager Emma Hayes could not hide her smugness at the fact the youngster has just signed a new long-term contract to stay in west London until 2027.

There was even a hint of the thrill this World Cup is providing in James’s comments to ITV, when the adrenaline was still flowing and the media training less constricting.

“It’s what dreams are made of,” she said. “Happy for the team; everyone is buzzing…I felt free. Whether I’m on the wing or in the middle, I’m happy to be playing and contributing to goals. Like last game, I just thought, ‘Hit it and see what happens’.

“It was frustrating [to have a goal disallowed] but those things happen. I’m just looking forward to the next one. Each game, I’m looking to get better and there are many more years of improvement.”

England needed a new star to emerge in Australia after losing so many of their biggest names to injury since winning the European Championship last year. James is the brightest to shine and now the whole world knows her name and what she is capable of. This is a career-defining moment but she is playing like and sounding like it is all routine. Keep that freedom and sense of adventure in her game and James will take England deep into this tournament.

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