Sarina Wiegman hails ‘special’ Lauren James after England progress

<span>Photograph: Morgan Hancock/Shutterstock</span>” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″ src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″></img></p>
<p><figcaption><span>Photograph: Morgan Hancock/Shutterstock</span></figcaption></p>
<p>Sarina Wiegman said Lauren James did “special things” after the forward’s scintillating performance helped the Lionesses secure a last‑16 tie against Nigeria with a 6-1 victory over China. “She flows over the pitch,” the England manager said after the 21-year-old’s two goals and three assists earned a second consecutive player of the match award at her first World Cup.</p>
<p>Chloe Kelly, the scorer of England’s fifth goal, added to the praise of James, who was not selected to start the team’s opening match. “She’s a very special player for us and women’s football in general,” Kelly told the BBC. “She’s a special talent and the future is bright.”</p>
<p><span>Related: </span>Wiegman’s wing-back surprise could prove a twist that sets England free | Sophie Downey</p>
<p>James, denied a hat-trick by a VAR call for offside, clearly enjoyed herself on the pitch. “It’s what dreams are made of,” she said with a smile in front of the ITV cameras. “I’m 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.”</p>
<p>Her display oozed belief and class and helped reinvigorate a side in need of a confidence boost. Despite wins in their opening two games, against Haiti and Denmark, England have struggled recently to score from open play and have lost several players to serious injury problems. That was laid to rest here as five players – Alessia Russo, Lauren Hemp, James, Kelly and Rachel Daly – scored after Wiegman switched a back four for a back three.</p>
<p>“I’m very proud of the team,” Wiegman said. “When we discussed that we wanted to change like this, everyone believed in it straight away and you saw that on the pitch. We were able to press high but also found a way to play the possession game well.”</p>
<p>England’s players were unimpressed with the application of VAR. The call that denied James another goal came just before half-time when Lucy Bronze was adjudged to be offside and the referee, Casey Reibelt, awarded China a controversial penalty for handball against Bronze, which Wang Shuang converted.</p>
<p>Bronze felt she was denied a spot-kick of her own and refused to shake the officials’ hands after the game.</p>
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Lucy Bronze is shown a yellow card by Casey Reibelt. Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock

“Playing for England, you tend to know that sometimes decisions don’t go your way,” she said. “Luckily enough for us, we finished the game off ourselves.

“I do think LJ’s goal should have stood. It would have been a huge moment for her, in her first World Cup, to score a hat-trick for England.”

Bronze said of China’s penalty: “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.

Related: China 1-6 England: player ratings from Women’s World Cup group D game

“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 [it is not a penalty]. I knew it wasn’t deliberate, but I guess she just wanted to give me a yellow card for fun.

“As a team it’s something we’ve been through before. At the last World Cup, we went through an even more interesting game with VAR and the opposition and refereeing decisions. Tonight was a little bit easier but I had more go against me than anyone else. It wasn’t a fun game in that respect. The most important thing is we won, we’re through to the next game, no one else got injured.”

England progress as Group D winners and face Nigeria in Brisbane on Monday. “We’re looking forward to it,” Kelly said. “It’s a different test again and in world football playing against different opposition is amazing.”

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