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World Cup: Ten-woman England survive Super Falcons scare

Tom Gennoy Brisbane | Matt Ford
August 7, 2023

European champions England are into the World Cup quarterfinals, pushed all the way by Nigeria before winning on penalties. Chelsea star Lauren James will be suspended after a red card, but England still believe.

England's players celebrate during a penalty shootout
Relief: England survived a penalty shooutout against NigeriaImage: Tertius Pickard/AP/picture alliance

Another goalless last-16 tie, another penalty shootout, another World Cup favorite on the ropes — but unlike the United States on Sunday, England survived. Just.

Lauren James was sent off for violent conduct, Nigeria hit the crossbar three times and Georgia Stanway missed the opening penalty, only for a shootout after 120 goalless minutes to see the Lionesses over the line.

"Tournament football is about building character and it’s games like this where you really see what a team is about, you see what the mentality is, you see the characters in players and in the team," England captain Millie Bright told DW. "We are willing to go through absolutely anything to find a way to win. Again, tonight proved that."

After Desire Oparanozie and Michelle Alonzie had missed for the Super Falcons, and after Bayern Munich's Stanway had missed for England, Chloe Kelly emphatically fired home the winner in Brisbane.

But it had been anything but straightforward for Sarina Wiegman's team after Nigeria pushed them all the way.

Plumptre 'where she's meant to be'

Ashleigh Plumptre, born and raised in Leicester, England, typified a stubborn and stylish Nigerian display. The defender saw a thumping effort crash back off the crossbar in the 17th minute, and stung the palms of English goalkeeper Mary Earps just moments later.

Millie Bright and Ashleigh Plumptre challenge for the ball
Millie Bright and Ashleigh Plumptre were on opposing sides of a intense duelImage: Darren England/AAP/dpa/picture alliance/dpa

"Leading up to the game, I think I had a fluctuation of feeling really excited and being really nervous. I’m kind of like that for most games but for me it was just a special moment," Plumptre told DW. "It wasn’t necessarily more pressurizing, and I was never going into the game like I have some vendetta against England, I don’t. I appreciated the experiences I had when I was there growing up.

"But now I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. I will remember this match not for the result but just for the experience overall and what it means to play amongst these players."

Having weathered the early West African storm, the European champions began to find their way into the game. But after the VAR overturned a penalty for an alleged foul by Rasheedat Ajibade on Daly, they struggled to create too much more of note until the same player drew a fine save from Nnadozie.

Lauren James on the ball for England before she was sent off
Lauren James has starred at the World Cup so far, but will miss the quarterfinal after being sent off against NigeriaImage: Patrick Hoelscher/News Images via ZUMA Press Wire/picture alliance/dpa

Lauren James sees red

The Lionesses may have survived but will be without Lauren James, who has been their standout player of the tournament to date, after she received a red card for a stamp of frustration on Michelle Alozie. James will certainly miss the Lionesses' quarterfinal, against Colombia or Jamaica in Sydney, and may be handed a further suspension.

"We’ll look after her," England striker Alessia Russo told DW of James. "Obviously moments like this happen in football, but we’re a team and we’ll stick together always."

Nigeria midfieder Toni Payne felt the dismissal of James offered an opportunity that Nigeria missed. "We were a player up for a good period of the game, we could have made better use of that, created more quality chances," she told DW. I’m extremely proud of how we’ve played football. We have a ton of talented players, and there’s a bright future for us.

For England, the future is more immediate. A quarterfinal awaits on Saturday. Even without their emerging superstar, the Lionesses will be favorites whoever they face in the last eight. But as Germany, Brazil and the USA have discovered, that means very little at a tournament that continues to surprise.