Women’s World Cup- England ride luck and stumble to victory after Lauren James sees red

The outcome was testament to the resilience England have built under Sarina Wiegman’s management, but the European champions were also reliant on a whole load of luck in their last-16 victory over Nigeria.

Twenty-four hours earlier, England supporters watched on eagerly as back-to-back champions and long-standing rivals the USA were stunned in a shootout defeat by Sweden, blowing the Women’s World Cup wide open.

That result put the Lionesses right up there as one of the heavy favourites to go all the way. Therefore, few would have imagined the excruciating experience that was to come in Brisbane against a Nigeria side who had battled the odds to reach the knockout round.

England came agonisingly close to following the USA on a plane home but clung on to their World Cup dreams by the skin of their teeth, doing what some of their rivals could not and managing to find a way – even if it did involve penalties.

“A win is a win” was the motto from England’s players as they moved through the group stages with 1-0 victories over Haiti and Denmark to open proceedings.

They had underwhelmed and stumbled along, not really imposing themselves on their opponents or the competition itself.

An injury to instrumental midfielder Keira Walsh cast further doubts until England finally turned up, thrashing China 6-1 in their final match of Group D, cementing their status as Europe’s best.

All of a sudden, concerns over England’s slow start evaporated and instead praise was showered on Wiegman’s tactical masterclass, where a rarely seen back three allowed England to express themselves in a free-flowing and highly entertaining display.

Lauren James was the star of the show, netting twice and assisting three goals as England’s stature grew overnight in the competition.

But six days later when they made their second appearance in Brisbane, it was not the China performance that was reproduced but the one we have become accustomed to seeing in recent months.

Wiegman had warned her players of complacency and defender Alex Greenwood had made it clear in a media conference they would ignore any external noise.

Nigeria, aiming to become the first African team to win a knockout match at the Women’s World Cup, were certainly no easy opponents.

The nine-time African champions had beaten co-hosts Australia and finished above Olympic gold medallists Canada in the group stages. They were here for a giant-killing and almost succeeded.

England were lacklustre and predictable, struggling to create chances and growing frustrated as each minute passed, feeling as if they were repeating the same things to no avail.

They had been there before against Haiti and Denmark, but this time it was even more noticeable given how much of a drop-off in performance it was from the one that sliced open China.

Kesh Awefada

Kesh Awefada

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