England proceed to the knockout stage with a 6-1 win over China in Women's Football World Cup


England questions the use of VAR after Lauren James’ hattrick was disallowed, Millie Simon reports

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By Millie Simon

England’s last game of the group stage certainly proved to be an exciting performance with multiple VAR checks, disallowed goals and a controversial booking on Lucy Bronze.

The match looked encouraging for England, with Alessia Russo scoring the first goal within four minutes of the game.

With the game off to a positive start, England looked comfortable as they assumed positions higher up the pitch with Bronze and Rachel Daly receiving long balls from the back line to send it straight into the box for Russo and Lauren Hemp to pick up.

Manager Sarina Wiegman was forced to change England’s game tactic as midfielder Keira Walsh was stretchered off in England’s last game with a knee injury. However, it allowed Katie Zelem and Laura Coombs to step in for Walsh and make their World Cup debut. It looked like every single player on the pitch improved their performance following Walsh’s injury, as midfielder Georgia Stanway said in the press conference a day before the game: “I woke up this morning feeling a lot more mature”.

It certainly showed as England’s midfield remained steady without Walsh.

Part way through the first half, a free kick for England was taken outside of China's penalty box but was delivered short and didn’t amount to anything.

China hardly engaged with England’s backline, allowing Millie Bright, Jess Carter and Alex Greenwood to comfortably pass the ball between them with very little pressure from China’s forwards.

There were moments of hope for China as a few counter-attacks progressed into England’s final third, but after a well-timed tackle from Greenwood, even one of China’s most promising chances kept England in the lead.

A wonderful interception from Bright allowed her to pass the ball on to James who passed it to Hemp, and with a smart touch beyond the Chinese defence, it allowed Hemp to comfortably put the ball in the bottom left corner of China’s goal.

England were awarded another free kick just outside of China’s penalty box. It was taken short again by Greenwood who easily passed it to an unmarked James, and with time and space, she effortlessly hit the pass in the bottom left corner of China's goal.

Lauren James had yet another chance for a goal and striked it into China’s net once again. However, a VAR check confirmed Bronze was offside resulting in the goal being disallowed. The referee was expected to explain the decision but no explanation came, leaving England supporters and commentator and Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, baffled as to why it was disallowed. The scoreline remained 3-0.

The beginning of the second half saw some improvement to China’s performance as they were successful at recovering the ball, and England looked like they had lost some of the pace they had thrived off of in the first half. James lost possession to Wu, who tried to strike it in the England goal, but Mary Earps (who didn’t have a lot to do in this match) saved the attempt whilst consequently conceding a corner. Yao took the corner and it ricocheted off both English and Chinese players, including what appeared to be Bronze’s arm. Chinese players instantly called for handball and yet again, VAR was used to decide if it was a penalty.

The referee gave the penalty to China and also showed Bronze a yellow card. From the replay, it looked like goalkeeper Mary Earps pushed Bronze into an unfortunate position whereby her arm was in direct contact with the ball. Some argued that it’s ball-to-hand, whilst others argued the ball hit her body before ricocheting off her arm. Either way, S Wang took the penalty and scored for China, making the scoreline 3-1.

At times England looked inconsistent with their passes; particularly Lucy Bronze, who lacked confidence since conceding a goal and being shown a yellow card.

However, another goal from James put England back in high spirits. The ball went from James to Carter, who controlled the ball and sent it back to James to finish off and score.

Nimah Charles, Bethany England and Chloe Kelly were all subbed on for Bronze, Russo and Hemp.

Kelly’s impact on the game demonstrated an initial success when the Chinese goalkeeper, Zhu Y, came out to try to neutralise the long ball that came from James to Kelly, but misjudged the bounce of the ball and allowed Kelly an open goal. Kelly’s positive contribution continued with a ball into the box which allowed Daly to force the ball into China’s net, leaving the scoreline 6-1 to England.

England top the Group D table and pursue on with their first knockout game against Nigeria on Monday 8 August.