When Sarina Wiegman named her starting XI for England’s second group game against Denmark, there was one addition that got the pulses racing – Lauren James.
The 21-year-old had an impressive season with Chelsea and has already made her mark in an England shirt, scoring a debut goal and being named player of the tournament at February’s invitational tournament the Arnold Clark Cup.
But it was in Sydney, in the 1-0 win over Denmark , where James finally announced herself on the world stage.
Less than six minutes into her first start in the Women’s World Cup, she glided past one player then stroked it into the top corner from the edge of the box.
It was the blockbuster moment we have become accustomed to seeing from James in the Women’s Super League this season – and it proved to be the winner, taking England to the brink of qualification for the knockout stages.
“She’s incredible,” said left-back Rachel Daly. “She brings a different presence to the team and a load of ability.
“I’m buzzing for her. She is so special and you can see what she can do in tight spaces.”
James follows in the footsteps of the legendary Jill Scott – becoming England’s second youngest goalscorer at the Women’s World Cup.
It was also the second earliest goal scored by the Lionesses in the competition at five minutes and 44 seconds.
“It was a wonder goal. She’s got that magic in her,” said striker Bethany England. “Hopefully she can produce more stunners like that.”
James described it as “an amazing feeling”, adding it was “something I’ve always dreamed of”.
Her impact was immediate. Every time she had the ball at her feet she was direct and the 40,439 watching from the stands in Australia were full of excitement.
England had 82% possession in the opening 15 minutes and James had three shots, more than any other player on the pitch.
“For someone so young, Lauren James just took the game by the scruff of the neck,” Lionesses’ record goalscorer Ellen White told BBC One.
“She really dictated the tempo of the game. I just love the way she manipulates the ball. Scoring at a World Cup is a dream for her and hopefully she can continue this now and take it into the next games.”
Wiegman has been careful not to overhype James.
During the Arnold Clark Cup, when captain Leah Williamson said James was like a video game ‘cheat code’ , Wiegman said she was “still building”.
And after the victory over Denmark, Wiegman again had a low-key reaction.
“Yes, she did well,” said Wiegman. “We really thought we needed players in the pockets. That’s where she came a lot, together with Georgia Stanway and Ella Toone, and that worked really well.
“And yes she made a very nice goal. We are very careful with her. She is a young, talented player and we were really happy with her performance – but just as we were with the rest of the team.”
But it is clear she stands out from the crowd. As Lucy Bronze stated in February, “Everyone has been waiting for this superstar” – and James showed glimpses of her potential against Denmark.
Older brother Reece James – an England and Chelsea star himself – posted on social media that he was “proud” of Lauren’s performance.
Former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis said James has the “poise, quality and technique” to hurt teams in the way she did to score the winner.
Ex-Lioness Fara Williams said James was “the only bright spark”.
“She kicked things off with the early goal, which really set us on our way [to the win],” Williams told BBC One.
“After the initial 20-minute period, the only quality from then on really came from Lauren James. For someone so young to control the rhythm of the team is impressive, some of the more experienced players need to take a leaf out of her book.”
Williams also praised Wiegman’s set-up, which allowed James “a licence to roam”.
“She brought rhythm to England’s play, recognising when to burst up the pitch, when to slow the play down and when to bring the ball back.
“When she comes in-field she gets into the pockets we want her in. Her goal is exceptional – the finish is unbelievable and the keeper wasn’t getting anywhere near it.
“It certainly got me off my seat. I was jumping around the room.”