Sarina Wiegman's success with England shows female coaches are deserving of further opportunities, says former Italy boss Carolina Morace.

Wiegman led the Lionesses to their first major tournament triumph at Euro 2022 before overseeing this year's run to the World Cup final in Australia and New Zealand, where they were beaten 1-0 by Spain.

She has earned plenty of plaudits since succeeding Phil Neville in the role in 2021, only losing two of her 39 matches at the helm (30 wins, seven draws) and overseeing a positive World Cup campaign despite injuries to key players including Leah Williamson and Beth Mead.

While the 2023 World Cup featured 32 teams for the first time, Wiegman was one of just 12 female head coaches present at the tournament. 

Morace wants to see football associations judge potential bosses on their competence rather than their gender, acknowledging the dominance of men at governing bodies is an issue.

Asked about the number of promising female coaches in the game, Morace told Stats Perform: "I'll answer you one way. Sarina Weigman inherited the [England] team from Phil Neville with the same players who had unfortunately achieved nothing under Phil Neville. 

"With her, they have reached the maximum. There are good, excellent female coaches and excellent male coaches. 

"You need to have the intellectual honesty to choose based on competence, to choose coaches who have not always been sent away from men's teams and who don't know the world of women's football. It is obvious they will also fail in women's football.

"I believe there are many good coaches who must be valued. Unfortunately, it is always men who choose, for whom it takes a little bit of effort [to recruit women]."

Morace is one of few female coaches with notable experience in the men's game, having led Italian third-tier outfit Viterbese at the start of her coaching career in 1999 – albeit for just two games.

She felt a higher turnover of coaches in the men's game made players more receptive to her methods, adding: "Coaching men is easier. When you coach a men's team, you coach boys who come from an early age and played in all the youth teams and have changed a lot of coaches. 

"You find them more ready [for change] than a girl who may have had two coaches or three coaches in her career.

"Perhaps today we can say that the little girls start from the same point as the boys. Before, it wasn't like that."

While Morace does not have an issue with male coaches working in women's football, she maintains the best candidates must be given chances regardless of their gender.

"It is one thing is to coach a national team," she said. "When you arrive in the national team, you have the World Cup, the Olympics which absolutely have another value [in the women's game]. 

"But now the men who are unable to enter the men's game look to the women, but they do it after seeing the stadiums full at the World Cup, it becomes very desired by them too. 

"Competence is much more important. I coached the Italian national team, the Canadian national team. For me, it was much more important than coaching the professional men's team in the third division."

The United States fell short tactically at the Women's World Cup and must now look to their European rivals for inspiration.

That is the view of former Italy striker and head coach Carolina Morace, who believes the USA's previous dominance of the women's game owed largely to their players' physical attributes.

The four-time winners recorded their worst-ever World Cup performance in Australia and New Zealand, losing to Sweden in a last-16 penalty shoot-out after narrowly avoiding a humiliating group-stage elimination in a goalless draw with Portugal.

Vlatko Andonovski resigned as head coach in the aftermath of their exit, with the USA having failed to score in back-to-back World Cup games for the first time in the tournament's history. 

Morace, who scored over 100 goals for Italy before coaching Le Azzurre between 2000 and 2005, believes the USA paid the price for falling behind their more astute rivals.

"They dominated the scene for years because physically the players were stronger, more trained than all the others," Morace told Stats Perform. "[Now] all the teams have physically grown. 

"They had to improve tactically. I coached Canada for a couple of years [between 2009 and 2011]. European football does not arrive there. 

"The innovations are in Europe, so the innovations that have been in Europe have not been [happening] in America. I don't know. 

"I am referring to occupying the empty spaces rather than passing between the lines, wanting to dominate the game, starting from the goalkeeper and pressing offensively. These are things they aren't used to doing, because it's a different kind of football there.

"In Australia and New Zealand, rugby is the national sport, so innovations come from there. Football is from Europe and innovations certainly come from here. 

"Maybe they thought that on a physical level they could still make up for the gaps they may have tactically, and it wasn't like this."

The USA scored just four times from 9.14 expected goals (xG) in their four games at the tournament, with star striker Alex Morgan failing to net from 17 attempts totalling 2.96 xG.

The World Cup – eventually won by Spain following Olga Carmona's final strike against England – was defined by upsets, with Germany and Brazil suffering group-stage eliminations.

Jamaica, South Africa, Morocco and Colombia earned plaudits by reaching the knockout stages, and Morace believes a sense of unpredictability contributed to the tournament's success. 

"It was an absolutely special World Cup because teams like Germany, the United States and Brazil immediately left the competition. It is clear that this has shocked everyone," she said.

"This certainly means that, on one hand, some teams have grown a lot, but it also means that teams like the USA or Germany or Brazil had to do better. 

"It was a very, very special World Cup. In the end, however, the final was played between the two best teams. Spain and England were the two teams absolutely on a tactical level and also on a technical level. They expressed the best football. 

"I wouldn't say that from a tactical point of view this was the best World Cup ever, because we saw that many teams had little possession, especially teams like South Africa, like Nigeria.

"The big teams probably didn't expect to find teams that played a different kind of football, more physical and more vertical. Then, in the end, the World Cup was won by the team that had the most possession in the whole championship."

Victors Spain managed more build-up attacks (23) than any other team at the World Cup, ahead of runners-up England (20). Meanwhile, the Lionesses were the only side to better Spain's 92 sequences of 10 or more passes, recording 100.

Georgia Stanway believes England “absolutely need” to keep Sarina Wiegman after she guided the Lionesses to the World Cup final – insisting women’s football is not a stepping stone into the men’s game for top coaches.

Wiegman has been linked with a the vacant post as head coach of the United States – or a move into the men’s game – but the Dutch manager has said she intends to honour her contract with the Football Association.

The 53-year-old led England to the Euro title at Wembley last summer but could not mastermind victory over Spain – who won the World Cup final 1-0 on Sunday.

Wiegman had achieved the same record as Netherlands boss, winning the 2017 Euros before falling short in the 2019 World Cup final ahead of taking the reins of the Lionesses.

Such success is bound to lead to interest from elsewhere but Stanway, who returns to training at Bayern Munich next week, believes it is vital that the FA holds on to Wiegman.

“Oh, we need her, we absolutely need her,” Stanway told Sky Sports News when asked about Wiegman’s future.

“She’s done amazing in what she’s done so far, even at the Netherlands and here as well – to be a female coach and obviously paving the way for female coaches.

“I think it’s amazing and to reach four finals in the last four major tournaments. Yeah, it’s class.”

The Netherlands men’s team has been a post Wiegman has been linked with in recent days, while Chelsea manager Emma Hayes is continually touted as being in the running for vacancies in the men’s game having guided the Blues to 13 major honours.

Asked if it was a compliment or a frustration that the best managers in the women’s game could be cherry-picked by men’s clubs, Stanway added: “I think it’s a bit of both.

“I think, as female footballers, we don’t want the female game to be the stepping stone for the men’s game

“We want it to be football and we want people to enjoy the fact that we play football, we enjoy it. And likewise for coaches, they enjoy coaching us and they’re the ones that are getting us to the top.

“We’re not a stepping stone and we’re trying our best to get the women’s game on the map as much as possible and we’ll continue to break barriers and see what we can do.”


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Stanway swapped Manchester City for Bayern after the Euros win last summer and collected a Frauen-Bundesliga medal in her first season in Germany.


England captain Harry Kane has made the move this year, leaving Tottenham for Munich in recent weeks – and Stanway offered him some advice.

“I think we’ll have the same German teacher but I wish him the best of luck with the language,” she said.

“Because, well, I’ve been there for a year now and I’m waiting for that click. The German teacher keeps saying it’ll click, it’ll click and a year down the line, and I’m nowhere near this click.

“I wish him the best of luck and hopefully, I’ll be able to get down to the Allianz Arena and watch some games.

“The city is lovely. The people are lovely. The German culture is so open and so welcoming and I’m sure he will feel at home straight away.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman felt the Lionesses exhausted every effort to win their first Women’s World Cup final despite coming up just short with a 1-0 loss to Spain in Sydney.

The Dutch boss, who led England to their first major trophy at last summer’s European Championship, finds herself with a silver medal in two consecutive attempts after steering 2019 runners-up the Netherlands to the title-decider four years ago in France.

Second place is still a best-ever finish for the Lionesses in a global showpiece, beating their bronze medal from 2015, but the three-time FIFA Best winning coach knows from experience it may take some time before the sting subsides.

Wiegman, who reiterated her commitment to remaining in England on multiple occasions this week, said: “That’s hard to take now, and of course we did everything, we gave everything, we’ve overcome lots of challenges and today we did everything we could to win.

“It feels really bad, of course, and very disappointed, but still very proud of the team.

“I’m just hurt about this moment. Losing a game and in a final, when you’re in a final you want to win it. I guess you mean because it’s a second final, I don’t see it (like that), this was a different game, a different team.

“I was totally convinced before the game that it would be a very tight game but we were confident that we were able to win it. I hope in the future I get a new moment with the team I work with, that would be amazing, because it’s very special to play finals.”

Lauren Hemp came inches away from scoring an opener with a first-half attempt that clipped the crossbar, and it remained England’s best chance of the contest.

Spain took a 1-0 lead when Mariona Caldentey slipped the ball to the onrushing Olga Carmona, who finished past Mary Earps with a left-footed effort into the bottom right corner after 29 minutes.

Wiegman initially employed the 3-5-2 shape that had been so successful in England’s 6-1 victory over China, but reverted to a 4-3-3 in the second half, when she brought in Lauren James – available for the first time following her two-match ban – and Chloe Kelly after the break.

Spain could have doubled their advantage in the second half when Keira Walsh was punished for a handball inside the penalty area following a lengthy VAR check, but the competition’s Golden Glove winner Earps read Jennifer Hermoso’s spot-kick perfectly and produced a fine save to keep England in the contest.

Wiegman said: “I think we played better in the second half. We changed shape, we got momentum, we got more in their half. Then they got the penalty and when Mary saved it I thought, ‘OK, now we’re going to score a goal and get the 1-1’, but we didn’t.”

The 2027 Women’s World Cup hosts will be announced at the 74th FIFA Congress in May, while England will defend their European title in Switzerland in 2025.

First comes UEFA’s newly launched Nations League, which also serves as a qualifier for next summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

England, Scotland or Wales would need to reach the final to qualify as Team GB, or finish third if automatically qualified hosts France are one of the last two.

Wiegman managed the Netherlands during the postponed 2020 Tokyo Games, but was disappointed by the Covid-19-impacted experience, remarking earlier in the week that “it felt like a jail. We were stuck in a hotel.”

So rather than thinking about the next World Cup in an as-yet-undecided location, Wiegman was looking ahead to just over a month’s time when England will kick off their Nations League campaign against Scotland at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light on September 22.

She added: “Four years is a little bit of a long time. We will start in September in the Nations League to try to qualify for the Olympics.

“You want to improve all the time. This team and this group of players are so eager to be successful. We want to grab every moment to be better. We hope we come back and play good games again to win.”

Gus Poyet has been impressed by the quality on display at this year's Women's World Cup and believes the tournament will inspire the next generation of women's football stars.

The expanded 32-team tournament in Australia and New Zealand has caught the imaginations of many, while a first-time winner is guaranteed ahead of Sunday's final between Spain and England.

Both host nations have posted record attendances for women's games, with Australia playing in front of three 75,784-strong crowds at Sydney's Stadium Australia and 43,217 watching Spain's semi-final victory over Sweden in Auckland.

The global competition has also been characterised by headline-making upsets, with Germany and Brazil suffering surprise group-stage exits as Morocco and Jamaica advanced at their expense. 

Speaking to Stats Perform ahead of the showpiece between Spain and England, former Chelsea and Tottenham midfielder Poyet hailed the tournament as a triumph.

"With respect to the other girls, when you see the best players playing, that's it," Poyet said. "That's football. 

"I think we need to be realistic and it is simple when you have a number of people playing football… men play football – I don't know how many – all over the world. 

"You can choose from those quantities, [there are] so many people to make so many clubs and so many competitions all over the world, that is why they keep going. Second division, third division… you go to England and it is National League, local leagues, Sunday League…

"But for the girls, they didn't play football that much in the last 40 years, quantity-wise. Then it is very difficult to find a way to make all these clubs play at the same level we are watching at the World Cup. 

"It is time, I think we need to give them time but the football that we saw, the goals we have seen, the ability of certain players, is nice to see. 

"We don't need to ask too much, too quickly. We need to take time, I think they need time and it is going to be part of life for everyone nowadays. 

"If you have a daughter, they will say that they want to play football and it will be natural. 

"When we were young it was different. There were a few [top players], but not the quantity that women's football needs. But it's nice to see that the quality is there."

Sarina Wiegman's Lionesses are looking to become just the second team – after Germany in 2003 and 2007 – to win the Women's World Cup as reigning European champions.

It will be the first meeting between England and Spain at the Women's World Cup, with the Lionesses losing just two of their previous 13 matches against La Roja across all competitions (W7 D4), including a 2-1 quarter-final win at last year's European Championships.

Former England captain Faye White praised the Lionesses for being “calm and composed” during their Women’s World Cup semi-final victory against Australia.

England reached their first World Cup final and will play Spain for the trophy on Sunday after Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo secured a 3-1 victory over the tournament co-hosts in Sydney, where Australia captain Sam Kerr had equalised with a stunning individual goal after half-time.

Ex-Arsenal defender White, who earned 90 England caps, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have had so many different challenges and styles of play to (come up) against in this tournament already and then dealing with the hosts…

“(Look at) how calm and composed the team were during that performance, even when Sam Kerr did that fantastic strike in the back of their net they still knew they could go again.”

When asked for her predictions for Sunday’s final, White added: “It is Spain and we know how many Champions League winners they have in their team.

“Yes they haven’t done that on the world stage. It is their first time in a final and it is England’s first time in a World Cup final but they’ve had that European success.

“England are the only team that haven’t lost, though. When you look at the opponents, Spain did lose and they do concede goals. I think most games they’ve conceded a goal. So there’s hope and I believe England can do it.”

England midfielder Ella Toone’s former PE teacher feels it is “not a surprise” that she has reached her first Women’s World Cup final after England beat Australia 3-1 on Wednesday.

Chris Nuttall, PE teacher at Fred Longworth High School in Tyldesley, Wigan, who taught Toone from Year 9 to Year 11, said he saw Toone’s potential at school and “could tell” she would achieve great success in football.

The teacher said it was a “surreal” experience watching Toone score the opening goal in the Sydney triumph, but felt her success was expected after she demonstrated strong sporting ability at school.

Nuttal, 38, told the PA news agency: “It’s surreal to see Ella play in the World Cup semi-final, but it’s brilliant now (England) have got through to the final.

“For myself and the rest of the department, it’s not a surprise for us because the way Ella conducted herself and how passionate she was about football throughout school, you could see how determined she was.

“You could tell she was going to go onto great things in terms of her football career.”

Nuttall also described the 23-year-old as a “role model”, beginnning at her old high school after she encouraged more girls to pick up sports.

He explained: “She was the type of student that was a dream for a PE teacher because she was involved in anything, any sport.

“She was a role model in whichever sport that she did.

“She was a big starting point and now we run a number of girls’ teams and we have a lot of girls join football teams, and that all started from Ella.”

The PE teacher expressed his pride in seeing his former student make herself one of the heroes of the day with a brilliant first-half strike, making Lionesses fans believe they could make their first World Cup final.

He said: “You always hope as a PE teacher that one of your students will continue that passion when they leave school.

“For somebody to go onto the level that she has, breaking records… it’s unbelievable.”

Nuttall hopes Toone will score again in England’s final against Spain on Sunday and expects the team to achieve the same result as the semi-final.

He said: “Hopefully, she’ll play some part in that and carry on her goalscoring because she seems to pick up the goals at the most important times.

“Hopefully she’ll score another goal (in the final).”

Toone’s former teacher is confident the Lionesses, who won the Women’s European Championship in 2022, will take home the World Cup trophy.

Nuttall said: “To get through the the World Cup final is amazing for the country, especially after the Lionesses winning the Euros.

“I think they’ll be ready for (the final). Having that experience at the Euros, they know how to prepare now for these types of matches.”

He has wished his former student and the rest of the Lionesses “all the luck” ahead of the final.

He said: “Good luck to Ella. We’re all really proud as a PE department so we wish her all the luck.

“Good luck to the Lionesses – they’ve done the country proud.”

England will meet Spain in the 2023 World Cup final after defeating co-hosts Australia in a pulsating semi-final in Sydney.

The Lionesses held off a Sam Kerr-inspired fightback to triumph 3-1 and book their place in Sunday’s showpiece at the same venue.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some key stats ahead of the all-European encounter.

History makers

Both teams are playing in their first final, with England having lost back-to-back semis in 2015 and 2019 and Spain having only won one World Cup match before this year.

The Lionesses are unbeaten in the tournament having topped Group D, while Spain were runners-up in Group C following a 4-0 loss to Japan.

Spain are only the second team in World Cup history to reach the final having lost a game by four or more goals, after Norway bounced back from an opening 4-0 defeat against China to finish as runners-up in 1991.

Regardless of the result, Europe is guaranteed to end its 16-year World Cup drought, with Germany most recently winning in 2007, while it is 20 years since the last final to feature two European nations (Germany v Sweden in 2003).

As reigning continental champions, England are seeking to emulate the aforementioned German side by completing a historic double, having already matched Sarina Wiegman’s 2019 Netherlands team by reaching the final as Euros winners.

Wiegman keeps the faith

Netherlands’ defeat against the United States in the 2019 final remains Wiegman’s solitary loss across 25 matches at major international tournaments.

That remarkable record has been built on consistency in selection.

Having started with the same 11 in every match of Euro 2022, England have used just 17 players at the World Cup so far, the joint-fewest of any team to reach the knockout stages.

Spain – in contrast – have called on all but one of their 23-strong squad, with only third-choice goalkeeper Enith Salon yet to feature.

Wiegman has also barely used her bench compared to Jorge Vilda – her Spanish counterpart – with England having made 17 substitutions to Spain’s 29.

Spain on song, England dogged

Statistically, Spain have outperformed England in most departments at this year’s World Cup.

They have scored 17 goals to the Lionesses’ 13, having attempted considerably more shots (143 to 81), passes (4,137 to 3,605), crosses (214 to 129) and ball progressions (181 to 99) than their final opponents.

Wiegman’s side have only occasionally found the form that carried them to the Euro 2022 title – when they scored 22 goals in six matches – and have instead relied on their defensive resilience to progress.

England have conceded only three times from 64 efforts on Mary Earps’ goal, while Spain have proved more susceptible having shipped seven goals from just 36 shots faced.

Renewed rivalry

Both teams will be braced for a tight battle following their most recent meeting in the Euro 2022 quarter-finals.

The Lionesses emerged as 2-1 victors on that occasion, but only after a late fightback.

Esther Gonzalez fired Spain into a deserved lead before Ella Toone equalised in the 84th minute and Georgia Stanway scored an extra-time winner.

Spain dominated for large periods, ending with 56 per cent of possession and firing 17 shots to the Lionesses’ nine.

It remains the only tournament match under Wiegman in which England saw their opponents enjoy the majority of the ball.

Defender Lucy Bronze admitted England “are not happy” with their World Cup performances so far but vowed the Lionesses will step up in Saturday’s quarter-final against Colombia.

The European champions crushed China 6-1 in their third group-stage contest, but that match remains an outlier in a tournament that has otherwise seen them score just one other goal from open play.

That winning strike came against Denmark from Lauren James, who will miss the Lionesses’ last-eight encounter while she serves at minimum a one-game suspension after she was sent off in Monday night’s last-16 victory over Nigeria.

“We can give more,” vowed Bronze. “We’re a fantastic team with highly-talented players, but the important thing is we got through to the next round.

“There’s no point in playing our best performances in the first games, we might as well save them for the quarter-finals or further than that.

“We’ve built on every game, we’ve taken something from every game, whether that was the Haiti game that was physical, the Denmark game when we lost our key player in Keira [Walsh], the China game we changed the formation completely, [Monday] we had a red card.

“Everything that has been thrown at us, we’ve dealt with and moved forward.

“I don’t see many other teams who’ve had that adversity and if they had, I don’t think they’ve managed to overcome the way we have. At the same time, we are not happy with our performances.”

The 2023 tournament, expanded to 32 teams for the first time, has already provided host of dramatic and often surprising results.

Double defending champions the United States were denied a shot at an history-making ‘three-peat’ after they were eliminated in the last 16 following a penalty shoot-out with Sweden, who are set to play Japan on Friday in one of the most anticipated quarter-final clashes.

That followed a group stage that saw three top-10 sides in Canada, Brazil and Germany ousted and nations far lower down FIFA’s world rankings advance, results that have largely been celebrated as evidence of progress in the women’s game and setting up the most unpredictable finals in the competition’s 32-year history.

World number four England, who have never reached a World Cup final, have so far managed to survive in the face of adversity.

Before kick-off against Nigeria, the name on everyone’s lips was Walsh, who was carried off the pitch on a stretcher in England’s second group-stage contest with what many feared was a tournament-ending injury, but made a stunning return on Monday night.

Yet 120 minutes later, when Walsh began to feel a cramp and was replaced by Manchester United skipper Katie Zelem, it was clear James would be the player in the headlines after she was shown a straight red for stepping on the back of Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie, forcing her team-mates to doggedly battle through extra-time short-handed.

The incident resulted in an automatic one-game suspension for James, though, there is a good chance the 21-year-old’s punishment could be extended to three games, which would include the World Cup final on August 20.

The decision to extend the ban will come from FIFA’s disciplinary committee, who could make the decision after the Colombia contest.

Chelsea forward James, who has since apologised on Twitter, had already contributed three goals and three assists in the group stage so she will be sorely missed for the Lionesses.

“All we can do is go back to training and make sure we are focused on the job at hand. The most important thing is that we’re coming out of games with wins,” Bronze added.

“I think I said that after the Haiti game, and some people thought that was not probably what they wanted. However, we’re the ones who are still in the competition and there’s many top teams who are going home because they haven’t been able to get that point or been able to see the games out in the penalty shoot-out and we have.

“We’ve shown that side of our team that we know what it takes to win.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman admitted “sweetest person” Lauren James “lost her emotions” as she received a red card that could see the 21-year-old miss the remainder of the World Cup.

The Lionesses advanced to the quarter-finals after surviving James’ dismissal late in the second half to beat Nigeria on penalties, with Euro 2022 hero Chloe Kelly scoring the winning spot-kick in a 4-2 shoot-out success.

James’ brace and two assists earned her player-of-the-match honours against China, but this time she was sent off after it was ruled she had deliberately stepped on the back of Nigeria defender Michelle Alozie with three minutes of normal time remaining of a game that ended goalless after 120 minutes.

Wiegman, who had not watched the incident back, said: “She’s an inexperienced player on this stage and has done really well, and I think in a split second she just lost her emotions.

“And of course she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. She’s the sweetest person I know, and things happen like that and you can’t change it anymore, so it’s a huge lesson for her to learn, but of course it’s not something that she really did on purpose.”

Wiegman said she personally delivered a similar speech to James, adding: “Of course she apologised and she felt really, really bad.”

James became the fourth England player to be sent off in a World Cup knockout match after David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and current England captain Millie Bright, who was shown a second yellow against the United States in the 2019 semi-finals.

Chelsea forward James, who made her World Cup debut against Haiti, faces at minimum a one-match ban, but that could be extended by FIFA’s disciplinary committee to three which would see her miss the rest of the tournament even if the Lionesses reach the final.

England’s spirits were high to begin Monday night’s contest in Brisbane, where midfielder Keira Walsh made a remarkable return from what many thought was a tournament-ending knee injury 10 days ago against Denmark.

Walsh played 120 minutes against Nigeria before being substituted but Wiegman said: “She was cramping a little bit, so we had to take her off, but she’s OK.”

Wiegman benefitted from a healthy side en route to England’s Euro 2022 triumph, but after dealing with multiple injury problems in the run-up to the tournament and coping without key presence Walsh and now breakout talent James, she admitted: “I have never experienced so many problems, but of course it’s my job to think of things that can happen in a game or in a tournament or ahead of the tournament.

“So you try to turn every stone, and then try to already think of a solution if things happen, and today we got totally tested on those turned stones.”

Nigeria had impressed throughout the group stage and were no different against England, twice hitting the crossbar and frustrating the Lionesses by employing a higher press for this knockout encounter.

But England held on in James’ absence to ensure their destiny would be decided by spot-kicks, with Bethany England, Rachel Daly, Alex Greenwood and Kelly all scoring after Georgia Stanway fired the first wide.

“I’m really proud of the team,” added Wiegman. “We’ve had many setbacks. I think this (James red card) was a big one too.

“We had to reorganise and do something else on the pitch and we didn’t need any minute to do so.

“And of course players got really, really tired, but we really stuck together and showed a lot of resilience.”

Nigeria head coach Randy Waldrum, whose contract with his federation is soon set to expire, said: “They just played their heart out. I couldn’t be more proud of them. I take away that we can be and probably should be one of the top teams in the world.

“I certainly hope that FIFA ranking goes from 40 to a better number than that, but more importantly I think we’ve shown that we’re capable of playing with anybody.

“I think we gave some teams that are still alive in this tournament at least a blueprint of how to approach (England).”

England’s players will rally round Lauren James after her “Beckhamesque moment of madness” in the team’s penalty shoot-out victory over Nigeria in the World Cup last 16.

Former men’s national team striker Gary Lineker likened the 21-year-old Chelsea forward’s red card for petulantly standing on Michelle Alozie as she lay on the floor to Beckham’s kick-out at Argentina’s Diego Simeone at the 1998 World Cup.

“The @Lionesses down to 10 as Lauren James has a Beckhamesque moment of madness,” Lineker wrote on Twitter.

However, while the former Manchester United star’s sending-off contributed to the team’s difficulties, Sarina Wiegman’s side have progressed to the quarter-finals.

Criticism of James, receiving the side’s first red card since Millie Bright’s dismissal in the World Cup semi-final defeat to the United States in 2019, has been well short of what Beckham received and team-mate Lauren Hemp said she would receive the full support of the squad.

“It’s things that happen in football, it’s not nice to see a red card but I felt like going down to 10 players we dealt with it very well, we were super-resilient and didn’t let them score,” Hemp told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“It’s one of those things. We will get around Lauren James in the coming days, she’s still very young.”

James is likely to face a three-match ban for violent conduct, which would rule her out for the remainder of the tournament.

“We all know Lauren is magic, she is our weapon and it’s a big loss for us but we can’t change that now,” team-mate Beth England added on Radio 5 Live.

“We have an unbelievable squad and players who can fill in in that position and hopefully we can see her again in the tournament.”

Wiegman told Radio 5 Live it was a “very hard lesson to learn”, adding: “It happens unfortunately and of course she doesn’t want to harm anyone.”

Former England defender Anita Asante was critical of James’ 87th-minute reaction to her growing frustration in the game, which finished 0-0 after extra-time.

“I’m really disappointed. One act has kind of tarnished all the good work that Lauren James has done up until this point,” she told Radio 5 Live.

“She is a superstar and hopefully she will grow from this experience.”

Asante was also critical of a lacklustre performance.

“England will go back, analyse the game and hopefully there will be some hard truths in the changing room,” she added.

“They need to hold each other accountable, including that moment with Lauren James.

“England are very lucky to have progressed to the quarter-finals and they definitely need to step up performances if they want to get all the way to a final.”

Another former international Alex Scott was more positive, however, telling BBC One: “When you think about how you go on to win tournaments you need moments of luck, magic, finding a way – which they did.”

Chloe Kelly hailed England as a “special team” as she once again proved to be the match-winner by scoring the decisive penalty in a World Cup shoot-out win over Nigeria.

The European Champions were second best for much of their last-16 clash, with their chances of securing victory hampered by a late red card for Lauren James after a needless stamp on Michelle Alozie.

After a goalless 120 minutes, Georgia Stanway fired the first spot-kick of the shoot-out wide for England only for both Desire Oparanozie and Alozie to miss the target with their efforts.

With everyone else successful from the spot, it fell on Kelly to emphatically smash home the winning penalty, following on from her extra-time winner in the Euros final last summer and the decisive spot-kick in a shoot-out win over Brazil in the Finalissima in April.

“No, definitely not, it is the team,” she told BBC Sport when asked about once again being the match-winner.

“This team is special, we did it in the Euros, we did it in the Finalissima, we are here again tonight and doing it; we keep pushing forward and there is more to come form this special team.

“It is amazing, anything that is thrown at us, we show what we are capable of.

“We dig deep, we dig deep as a group, we believe in our ability; first and foremost we believe in what we are being told to do.”

Asked about what was going through her head as she walked up to take her penalty, the Manchester City forward replied: “For me, it is ‘I’m going to score’ – that is how I look at it, once I win that mental battle we are good.

“We have been practising (penalties) a lot actually and it has been working.”

The Prince and Princess of Wales have congratulated the Lionesses after they secured a place in the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals.

William and Kate praised the team’s “hard-fought” victory after England beat Nigeria 4-2 on penalties on Monday.

A post on their official Twitter account said: “Well done @Lionesses!

“It was hard-fought but now we’re on to the quarter-finals. Good luck.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also took to social media to praise the victorious England team.

He tweeted: “That was tense!

“Congratulations to the @Lionesses on a hard-fought win.

“Bring on the quarter finals.”

England have reached the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals by beating Nigeria 4-2 on penalties.

England had Lauren James sent off late on as their World Cup last-16 clash with Nigeria ended 0-0 after normal time.

The 21-year-old forward, star of the Lionesses’ group stage matches with three goals and three assists, was dismissed in the 87th minute in Brisbane after standing on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie.

James was initially shown a yellow card before VAR intervened, referee Melissa Borjas watched the incident back pitchside and it was changed to a red, leaving England with 10 players for extra time.

James and her fellow attackers had been effectively stifled by the Nigerian defence, while limited England chances included Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly being denied by Chiamaka Nnadozie, and the European champions also had a first-half penalty award for a challenge on Daly overturned via VAR.

Meanwhile, Nigeria had gone closer to breaking the deadlock, twice hitting the bar, through Ashleigh Plumptre in the first half and Uchenna Kanu in the second.

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