England manager Sarina Wiegman is confident that her team can adapt and find alternative ways to be creative if Nigeria specifically targets breakout talent Lauren James in their upcoming last-16 match in Brisbane. James, a forward for Chelsea, was named player of the match in England’s final group stage game against China, where she contributed two goals and three assists in a 6-1 victory. With her impressive performance, Nigeria’s head coach Randy Waldrum is likely to devise a plan to neutralize her threat.
Wiegman acknowledged the possibility of this happening and stated, “Well, first of all we didn’t make the starting line-up yet. But I think some countries mark us and want to take out players. Not only one, but more players. So that’s good when you have so many good players on the pitch that they have to be aware of all those players.” She emphasized the importance of having multiple talented players on the field who can step up and create chances even if specific players are marked.
The potential return of midfielder Keira Walsh could also bolster England’s squad. Walsh suffered a knee injury during their second group stage game against Denmark, but it was not as serious as initially feared. Although Wiegman did not disclose the specific diagnosis, it has been confirmed that it is not an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury or a ligament issue. Walsh has begun her rehabilitation and joined the rest of the England squad for training, indicating a positive recovery.
The 2023 World Cup, which expanded to 32 teams for the first time, has seen unexpected upsets with several top-ranked teams being eliminated. Defending champions USA, second-ranked Germany, Canada, and Brazil have already been knocked out. Notably, Canada was defeated by Nigeria, ranked 40th. These surprising outcomes have marked the likely final World Cup appearances for renowned players such as Marta, Christine Sinclair, and Megan Rapinoe.
Wiegman acknowledged the competitiveness of the tournament and the rapid development of women’s football worldwide. She stated, “The development of the game all over the world has gone really quickly, at a very good level. But I’m mainly focused on my team and on the next match with my team, so I’m not into every game. I don’t have the full context, but that’s the main thing I have noticed.”
As England prepares for their last-16 clash against Nigeria, Wiegman remains optimistic about her team’s ability to adapt and overcome any challenges they may face.