Lauren James said on the eve of the Women’s World Cup that she wanted to be known as more than just the sister of Chelsea’s Reece James -- safe to say she has now done that, and more.
The 21-year-old sparkled in a 6-1 annihilation of China on Tuesday as European champion England swept into the last 16 of the World Cup and a meeting with Nigeria.
James scored twice, had another disallowed and a hand in three other goals in a remarkable display.
She had needed just six minutes to stamp her mark on the tournament in Australia and New Zealand with a wonderful strike from outside the area in a 1-0 win over Denmark.
Coach Sarina Wiegman resisted calls to start the exciting attacker in the tournament opener against Haiti when England underwhelmed in a 1-0 win thanks to a penalty.
But James, who like England men’s international Reece plays for Chelsea, was given a start in the next match against the Danes and was the best player on the pitch for 45 minutes.
She rightfully kept her place for the China game in Adelaide and produced a scintillating display to light up the World Cup.
“She’s special -- a very special player for us and for women’s football in general,” England team-mate Chloe Kelly told reporters.
Wiegman makes a point of not picking out individual players for praise, but she conceded afterwards that James “did special things”.
James came off in the 81st minute to a standing ovation.
Handling the pressure
For many casual football fans, brother Reece, the attacking full-back who has excelled for Chelsea, will be the better-known of the siblings, who are close.
Speaking to English media ahead of the World Cup, James admitted that always being talked about in the same breath as her brother bothered her.
“Even just ‘that’s Lauren James, that’s Reece’s sister’, but I want to carve that out and be known as ‘this is Lauren James’,” she said.
James would perhaps have been better known by the wider public by now were it not for injuries.
Having been in Chelsea’s youth teams, she then played for Arsenal and Manchester United before rejoining the Blues two years ago.
But persistent knee injuries held her back initially, and when England won the Euros last summer, she was watching from the stands.
She has said that fuelled her determination to be involved in the World Cup, and 12 months later, she is the talk of the tournament.
Writing in London’s Evening Standard, former England international Rachel Yankey said she had no fears that James could handle being under the spotlight.
Yankey believes that the link to her brother has actually stood James in good stead.
“That meant automatically people were watching Lauren, so I am not worried about her handling this,” Yankey wrote.
James’s first goal against a shellshocked and outclassed China came four minutes before half-time.
James struck the ball sweetly the first time with her right foot from outside the box and into the opposite bottom corner after being teed up from a free-kick by Alex Greenwood.
Her second was just as impressive, volleying into the corner, this time with her left foot.
James said having a hand in five of England’s six goals was “what dreams are made of”.
“I felt free, whether I am on the wing or in the middle I am just happy to be on the pitch. I think like last game I thought, why not hit it and see what happens?
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