Five things we learned from England thrashing China at the Women’s World Cup

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England equalled their biggest ever Women’s World Cup win by thrashing China 6-1 on Tuesday to qualify for the knockout stages top of Group D with maximum points.

The Lionesses previously hammered Argentina by the same score-line in 2007, but this game against China was a much more meaningful win given the difficulties that Sarina Wiegman’s team have had so far at the tournament – and the fact that China are a long established international force.

Having laboured to 1-0 wins against Haiti and Denmark to begn their campaign, England blew the cobwebs off early when Alessia Russo scored after just a few moments. Lauren James and Lauren Hemp each then added further first half goals, before James, Chloe Kelly and Rachel Daly ran up the scoreline in the final quarter of the match. China had pulled one back through Wang Shuang from the penalty spot to make it 3-1, but there was no stopping England in the end.

It is a fifth successive World Cup in which the Lionesses have successfully navigated the group stage to reach the knockouts and they will now face Group B runners-up Nigeria in the last 16.

But, before attention fully turns to that game next Monday, here’s a look at five things we learned from watching England thrash China…


Sarina Wiegman made more than just an injury-enforced change

Sarina Wiegman made more than just an injury-enforced change / BRENTON EDWARDS/GettyImages

Sarina Wiegman picked the same starting XI in all six games as England won Euro 2022 last summer and is known to favour that kind of continuity over chopping and changing lineups game to game – she was the same when in charge of Netherlands at Euro 2017 and the 2019 World Cup.

Two personnel changes to the team that started against Denmark last time out was the first time Wiegman had made more than one change in a tournament since 2017. She kept that up here.

The expectation pre-game was that Laura Coombs would come into the team to plug the void left by Keira Walsh’s injury, with Georgia Stanway moving into Walsh’s role and Coombs taking Stanway’s. What actually happened was Katie Zelem replacing Walsh, but Lauren Hemp and Jess Carter also returning to the side in place of Chloe Kelly and Ella Toone, complete with a new 3-4-1-2 formation.

Those changes ended up unlocking England’s potential after stilted early attacking performances.

Lucy Bronze, Chen Qiaozhu

Lucy Bronze played further forward as a wing-back / Sarah Reed/GettyImages

That Wiegman changed the team and the system is one thing, but it is another that the players appeared to immediately thrive with a new way of doing things.

There were no issues in switching to three at the back and both Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly did outstanding jobs as wing-backs, which is the key to any such formation with three central defenders.

Alessia Russo, who has struggled as a starter to repeat her super-sub heroics from Euro 2022, also seemed to work better in tandeom with another forward alongside her. That happened to be Lauren Hemp on this occasion, but it could easily be any number of other options moving ahead.

Lauren James

Lauren James is England’s X-factor / Eurasia Sport Images/GettyImages

Lauren James didn’t start against Haiti and then scored the only goal of the game early on when she came into the team on the left flank against Denmark. But there were still clamours for the Chelsea star to be used centrally to fully maximise her ability as arguably England’s most gifted player.

This time, she did get the nod in the ‘number 10’ role, with Ella Toone the player missing out after a surprisingly lacklustre start to the tournament.

James set up Russo for England’s early opener, then found Hemp with a pinpoint pass for the second. She scored two of her own to put the Lionesses out of sight at 4-0 and also laid on the fifth goal for Kelly towards the end. By the time Daly netted the sixth, James was no longer on the pitch but had had a direct hand in all five goals that England had scored while she was.

The scary part is that her genius seems to natural, easy and effortless.

“It’s one of her strengths that she does make it look easy,” BBC pundit and former England captain Steph Houghton told 90min before the World Cup began.

“She just has this will to drive at players, using her tricks, and is really quick when she’s dribbling with the ball. As a defender, it’s hard when someone is moving the ball from side to side. She’ll try to take you on the outside and then cut on the inside. “Her finishing is great. Some people probably know her for her dribbling and ability to take players on, [but] she’s one of the best finishers in the [WSL].”

Katie Zelem made her major tournament debut at 27

Katie Zelem made her major tournament debut at 27 / FRANCK FIFE/GettyImages

Katie Zelem is the player in the England squad most similar to Keira Walsh, but Laura Coombs had replaced Walsh when she got injured against Denmark was was expected to get the chance to start against China. It wasn’t until the lineups were announced that it was known Zelem actually would play.

The Manchester United captain had an outstanding club season in 2022/23 but is a relatively late bloomer at international level, with this her debut in a major tournament at the age of 27. She wasn’t fazed in the slightest and set about playing her normal game, sitting in the deep-lying midfield role, both shielding the defence behind and picking passes to keep the ball moving.

With no definitive news on whether Walsh will return before the end of the tournament, Zelem might have done enough to earn that place for as long as England remain at the World Cup.

Alessia Russo, Beth Mead

Beth Mead scored a hat-trick when England hammered Norway at Euro 2022 / Naomi Baker/GettyImages

England’s performance against China ultimately brought back memories of Euro 2022.

It is easily forgotten that the Lionesses didn’t have the strongest or most convincing start to that tournament, feeling their way into things with a narrow opening win against Austria. It was then followed up by the 8-0 demolition of dark horse contenders Norway that really got the ball rolling.

It took them a game longer to do the same here, having put together two fairly lacklustre wins against Haiti and Denmark, but the journey is now similar. Even while no longer comparable to their 1990s vintage, China are no pushovers at this level and were made to look abjectly poor by and England that attacked at will with speed, intent and incisiveness.

The hope is that, as it did last summer, momentum now continues to accelerate from here.