England survived the loss of Lauren James to a red card, 120 minutes of pressure from Nigeria, and a penalty shootout in its last 16 victory on Monday, in a game coach Sarina Wiegman said was one of the most “intense” she had experienced.
England was on the back foot for most of the game, especially after James, its top scorer this tournament with three goals was sent off in the 87th minute for a stamp on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie.
“I just know I’m 10 years older,” Wiegman, 53, told reporters. “I haven’t been in very many games that were so intense as this one tonight.”
Manchester City forward Chloe Kelly, also the hero with an extra-time goal in England’s Euro 2022 final win over Germany, scored the decisive penalty in a 4-2 shootout victory.
“I’ve never experienced so many problems,” Wiegman said. “But of course, it’s my job to think of things that can happen in a game or in a tournament or ahead of the tournament.
“You try to turn every stone and then try to already think of solutions for when things happen. And - well - today we got totally tested on those stones.”
James will miss Saturday’s quarter-final against either Colombia or Jamaica and depending on a FIFA disciplinary review, could miss the rest of the tournament in what would be a massive blow to England’s World Cup dreams.
“It was a split second,” Wiegman said of James’ costly misstep. “She’s an inexperienced player on this stage and she’s done really well. And I think in a split second, she just sort of lost her emotions.”
The slim victory came despite the fact England - unbeaten in 36 of their last 37 games - are ranked 36 places higher than Nigeria. Wiegman has spoken before about the terrific parity in this expanded 32-team World Cup that has been full of upsets.
For long stretches on Monday, it looked like the Lionesses might be the next top-10 casualty of the tournament.
“We were not under-estimating them at all and they showed tonight what a good team they have,” Wiegman said of the Super Falcons. “They were very well organised, very physical, very athletic, and they pressed a little higher.
“Nothing is easy in this tournament. And that’s very exciting too because we see the women’s game has improved so much. You saw in the group stage, many games were equal, and it’s not that the expected teams have won all the time.”
Wiegman praised her players for bouncing back quickly from the red card and withstanding a Nigerian onslaught in the dying minutes.
“We’ve had many setbacks ... as soon it looked like Lauren James was sent off, straight away had to reorganise,” she said. “The conviction to keep the nil and get out of their press, that was just incredible.
“The players got really, really tired but we really stuck together, showed a lot of resilience. You’re so tired and then you go into a penalty shootout and do so well I think is really incredible.”
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