Lauren James celebrates scoring her first of two goals against China at Hindmarsh Stadium with teammate Alex Greenwood (Image: @FIFAWWC Twitter)

England topped Group D in style after recording its equal-biggest ever FIFA Women’s World Cup win against China at Hindmarsh Stadium.

While England entered its finals match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Group Stage comfortably leading Group D, opponents China had to avoid defeat at a minimum, while also hoping results went its way, to earn the right to take on Australia in the Round of 16 of the tournament.

Sarina Wiegman’s side traveled to Adelaide with a perfect six points and two clean sheets, but with two performances against Haiti and Denmark that suggested the Lionesses were still finding their groove in the tournament. Meanwhile, China, after its victory over Haiti, gave star player and goal scorer Wang Shuang her first start of the tournament, replacing the suspended Zhang Rui.

Right from referee Casey Reibelt’s first whistle, England took the game from the scruff of the neck and barely allowed the Steel Roses possession of the ball. This early dominance was converted on the scoreboard when Lauren Hemp’s cross was not adequately dealt with by the China backline which saw Alessia Russo pounce and beat Zhu Yu at her near post to open the scoring.

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England’s incisive play through China’s lines, led by captain Millie Bright from central defence, saw China often at the mercy of England, and with the Lionesses being in an unforgiving mood, they punished the steel roses once again. Bright’s instinctive play from the back saw her intercept a China attack before a smart pass to Lauren James saw her allowed the time and space to play Lauren Hemp one-on-one against the goalkeeper, with the Manchester City star making no mistake to double her side’s lead in the 26th minute.

The duress England’s press put China under did not just mean that Shui Qingxia’s side could not maintain hold of the ball, but that it needed every second it could get to recover physically and mentally when play paused. The Lionesses took advantage their opponent’s momentary lapse of concentration when Alex Greenwood’s short free-kick caught China off and Lauren James emphatically finished from the edge of the box to make it three for the Group D Leaders.

China was finally given a reprieve in a disappointing half of football when another Lauren James screamer, deep in first-half injury time, was ruled out due to offside. With Denmark beating Haiti in Perth, it meant that China had nothing to lose and entered the second half playing with renewed freedom.

China’s first attempt on target was finally achieved by Lou Jiahui, from distance, in the 52nd minute which Mary Earps needed to intervene to force the ball wide for a corner. A smart flick off the set piece saw a Lucy Bronze handball picked out by VAR, which allowd Wang Shuang to restore some hope for China from the penalty spot for the second consecutive game, this time cutting England’s lead to two goals in the 57th minute.

England’s reduced advantaged did not last for long, with Lauren James reminding the Hindmarsh crowd that she has a flair for the spectacular, this time finding herself on the end of a Jess Carter cross to record her brace with an excellently placed volley. Despite conceding yet again, China’s newfound intensity had spectators questioning where that energy was in the first half when the Steel Roses allowed their opponents to complete a massive 93% of their passes under little to no duress.

Clearly outclassed on the pitch, China did not make things easy for itself, with goalkeeper Zhu Yu astonishingly misjudging a long ball that opened the door for Chloe Kelly to waltz into goals and record her side’s fifth. Rachel Daly joined in on the demolition job volleying home at the back post as China’s defence was unable to clear its lines once again.

This victory confirmed England’s equal-best FIFA Women’s World Cup victory, the seven-goal scoreline against China a carbon copy of its victory over Argentina in the 2007 tournament, while the Steel Roses suffered their worst-ever defeat in the tournament, a far cry from its four-goal loss to Brazil, also during the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup

England captain Millie Bright shared her joy at seeing her team hit its stride in Adelaide.

“There is no bigger moment than leading the girls out, no matter what the score is,” Bright shared.

“It is the icing on the cake when you can get such a big performance, I think we have really grown into the tournament now.”

Bright’s candid admission of England’s gradual improvement after two nervy one-goal wins against Haiti and Denmark, was echoed by Coach Sarina Wiegman who agreed with her captain’s assessment but shared that their opponents’ performance, particularly the lack of pressing, was a contributing factor.

England’s victory meant that it officially topped Group D, sealing a Round of 16 encounter against Nigeria in Brisbane. The Lionesses’ crushing win and Denmark’s forthcoming victory over Haiti meant that it will be De Rød-Hvide that will be taking on the Matildas at Stadium Australian in their own Round of 16 tie.

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