England’s Lionesses have reached the knock-out stages of the Women’s World Cup after a dominant 6-1 win against China in Adelaide.
The European champions needed just a point against the Women’s Asian Cup winners to clinch top spot in Group D.
But they settled nerves early on in the match when Alessia Russo hooked in the opener after just four minutes.
Lauren Hemp added a second 26 minutes in, before Lauren James scored her second curled wonder goal of the World Cup to make it 3-0 before half-time.
James thought she had added a fourth with another beautifully placed long-range strike before the break.
However, the referee ruled it out after a review.
VAR punished England again after half-time, when China were awarded a penalty.
The Lionesses conceded for the first time in the tournament after Lucy Bronze appeared to handle the ball and was given a yellow card after the review.
Wang Shuang pulled one back for China from the spot to give the Chinese hope, as the Lionesses let their lead slip to 3-1.
But another stunning James strike restored a three-goal cushion for England.
England fans ‘absolutely buzzing’ after crushing victory
By Nicole Johnston in Sydney
England’s fans finally got the win they’d been waiting for. A confident, crushing victory leaving China in their wake. The Lionesses scored goal after goal.
At Sydney’s fan zone most of the crowd backed China, but a few England groups also watched the late-night game.
“I’m so happy I’m absolutely buzzing,” Maya Walden said. She travelled from England to Australia for the tournament. “I knew we were going to win but I didn’t think it would be to that scale at all.”
As for Maya’s favourite moment: “Just all of it. I think when Lauren James scored the first time it was amazing.”
For China fans it was a tough evening. The Asian Cup champions scored only one penalty goal and struggled against England.
University student Lincoln Xue took the loss gracefully. “I’m definitely pretty sad but it’s fine and I think we had some chances but we did not take them,” Xue told me. “England are the European champions.”
There was no denying the Chelsea forward her second goal of the game, as she produced a sublime first-time side-footed volley into the far corner of the net.
And Euros hero Chloe Kelly pounced on a goalkeeping error by Zhu Yu to make it five.
Rachel Daly rounded off the scoring to make it 6-1 in a thumping England win.
James was denied her hat-trick when England boss Sarina Wiegman took her off with 10 minutes to go – presumably with an eye on the next round.
The double goalscorer said: “It’s what dreams are made of. Happy for the team and everyone is buzzing and looking forward to going into the next round.
“I felt free, whether I am on the wing or in the middle, I am just happy to be on the pitch playing and enjoying my football. I am happy I can contribute to goals as well.”
On her stunning first-time finish at the far post, she added: “I think like the last game, I just thought ‘Why not? Hit it and see what happens’.”
And she said more is to come, adding: “For sure, each day, each game I am looking to improve and get better, there are many more years of improvement, I can always get better. I just need to stay focused and hopefully that can happen.”
Manager Wiegman made three changes to her Lionesses starting line-up – with Katie Zelem starting in the World Cup for the first time, and Jess Carter and Hemp returning to the starting XI.
Five players that lifted last year’s Euros were unavailable for the showdown with China.
But England weren’t fazed and delivered their most assured performance of the tournament so far.
Wiegman said afterwards: “I am very delighted, I said before the game we were going to do things a little bit different than we did before and we did really well, it shows how adaptive this team is and I think they are enjoying themselves.
“I think today it worked really well, players felt comfortable. What we want is the qualities we have now to try and use them a little bit more.”
On James’s performance, Wiegman added: “She feels good, you can tell, she did special things today. Unfortunately one goal was cancelled, but she flows over the pitch.”
Wiegman tight-lipped on Walsh
The Lionesses booked their place in the last 16 without key midfielder Keira Walsh, who was ruled out of at least this clash with an undisclosed knee problem after an injury in the last match against Denmark.
Wiegman was non-committal when asked before the game whether Walsh would be able to play any further part in the tournament.
Walsh was stretchered off in the first half of England’s match against Denmark in Sydney on Friday with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, although scans have since shown the 26-year-old has not suffered an ACL injury as first feared.
“Keira is okay. It’s not an ACL. I can’t give you any more information,” Wiegman said.
“It’s not nice to lose players. First of all for them, and second for the team, but we are here to move on.
“It’s part of sport, it’s not nice, but we have to move on, to adapt to the new situation and find a way, and bring 11 players on the pitch with whom we think can win the game.”
How China v England unfolded
What next for England?
The fourth-ranked Lionesses defeated Haiti 1-0 in their opener, and Denmark 1-0 in the second group game of the tournament.
Group winners and runners-up progress to the last 16.
By winning their group, England have secured a knock-out tie against Nigeria on Monday – avoiding hosts Australia.
The next round of knock-out stage fixtures will take place from 5 to 8 August.