Tuesday, June 18, 2024

England vs Nigeria talking points: Lionesses lucky as Lauren James sees red and Sarina Wiegman confuses – Sky Sports


Talking points as England squeezed through to the World Cup quarter-finals on penalties after a goalless draw with Nigeria; we look at Lauren James’ red card and Sarina Wiegman’s confusing tactical decisions…
By Maryam Clark
Tuesday 8 August 2023 06:04, UK
Lauren James’ red card, Sarina Wiegman’s confusing tactical decisions and a shootout success – we look at the talking points from England’s World Cup last-16 win against Nigeria.
There were several missed penalty calls – one given and then chalked off – a red card, the woodwork rattled, extra-time and penalties – and Nigeria did almost everything they could to fashion a win.
The fact that England pipped their opponents on penalties is no slight on the Super Falcons. Wiegman needed fortune on her side because it was clear a win wouldn’t happen on her terms.
So much went wrong, and it shouldn’t have come down to a tense shootout to secure progression to the quarter-finals.
Only 20 touches in the first half from a player who stunned Denmark and was mercurial against China seems criminal.
But consider it another reason why England had such a tough time; Nigeria planned for it to unravel exactly how it did.
The midfield areas were hauntingly quiet, with all the action concentrated around the flanks. Halimatu Ayinde made sure of that by shadowing James’ every move.
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England: Meet the Lionesses
As the minutes ticked by, the Chelsea forward became increasingly frustrated, starved of possession, and isolated from the action.
There have been slight concerns from Chelsea fans in domestic conversations that James sometimes struggles in big moments when things aren’t handed to her on a plate in the No 10 role. Her performance in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona is a fitting example.
Barring a successful appeal – which seems about as close to impossible as it could possibly be – Lauren James will automatically be suspended for England’s quarter-final with either Jamaica or Colombia.

But beyond that, it could be worse news for the Chelsea forward. FIFA rules state: “Depending on the nature of the red card, additional sanctions can be added by FIFA if necessary.”

James’ dismissal was for violent conduct, which is normally met with the harshest punishments across all levels of the game.

A three-match ban normally follows in those cases – and if that happens here, James’ tournament is over no matter how far England go.
What follows is a build-up of irritation and then an eruption of emotion – which is precisely what happened under the lights in Brisbane.
In a moment of madness that echoed the infamous ‘David Beckham incident’ against Argentina at the men’s World Cup in 1998, James used Michelle Alozie as a springboard while dusting herself off from an aggressive challenge.
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A lengthly VAR stoppage followed to review the initial yellow card, and then, just like that, England were down to 10 as they fell extremely short of the standards they had set for themselves.
For James, it’s a steep learning curve. The system did not work for her today, and she was unable to make it work for her. Should Wiegman have changed things earlier? Would this have changed James’ fate? We can only speculate.
England set up in a 3-5-2 system, expecting to blow away Nigeria, as they did to China and Denmark, but the Super Falcons had prepared for exactly that.
They targeted England’s wing-backs in a fast and furious 4-2-3-1 shape, forcing them away from their designated spots and finding swathes of space to drive into.
It was a plan the Lionesses weren’t expecting, and you could feel the nerves rippling through the midfield and defence as they tried to get a foothold in the game.
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Alozie and Ashleigh Plumptre led that Nigerian charge, and the latter rattled the woodwork in the dying moments of the half.
England couldn’t handle the overloads, but Wiegman held back on making any tweaks; she was still sure something would give in a more central space – a risky ploy.
It almost worked out in the 31st minute when it seemed that Rasheedat Ajibade had pushed Rachel Daly, but that was the only moment where it felt like something might swing their way – and it wasn’t even from open play.
It took the James sending-off for Wiegman to revert to a back four – and even later for the attacking changes to be made.
Here’s a telling stat: Nigeria took more shots against England than any other side to face the Lionesses this summer at the World Cup.
It didn’t matter that Asisat Oshoala was watching from the bench.
When she did come on in the 58th minute, it felt like a foreboding introduction; Uchenna Kanu and Ifeoma Onumonu had already stretched Wiegman’s back three pretty far, and now Lucy Bronze and Millie Bright had to contend with the five-time Champions League winner.
Oshoala, Kanu, and Ajibade then combined forces to attack like a many-headed hydra as the Lionesses struggled to adapt to the unfolding events.
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England, who had been so fluid in reacting to Kiera Walsh’s absence earlier in the tournament, were stiff, stubborn, and stale.
They cannot afford a repeat against either Colombia or Jamaica; England have already shown where their weaknesses lie. A more efficient team could put them away for it.
Nigeria manager Randy Waldrum admitted as much when he hinted the “blueprint” on how to break down the Lionesses was now out in the open.
“I think we gave some teams in this tournament a blueprint of how to approach [stopping England]” he said ruefully.
“We saw that China gave the back three too much time, then when you add James finding space to that, it was a recipe for disaster for them.”
“We knew we had to take James away and put some pressure on the back three, so we pressed them more and got a little physical with them.
“I’m sure other teams will watch and think, ‘this gives us an idea of the way we need to play them’.”
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