England players celebrate after scoring against China (Brenton EDWARDS)
Lauren James scored twice and played a starring role as European champions England swept past shellshocked China 6-1 on Tuesday and into a Women’s World Cup last-16 clash with Nigeria.
It equalled England’s biggest-ever World Cup victory and booked them top spot in Group D, while consigning the Asian champions to their earliest-ever exit.
Denmark beat Haiti 2-0 in the other group game to finish second and line up a knockout-round meeting with co-hosts Australia.
Along with Japan, England are the only team to win all three group games so far, reaffirming their status as among the favourites to win the World Cup.
“I am very delighted. What I said before the game, we are going to do things a bit different. It shows how adaptable this team is. I think today it worked really well, players felt comfortable,” said England coach Sarina Wiegman.
“I don’t think they expected us to play this way and they didn’t find a solution.”
England made an explosive start in Adelaide with an instinctive finish from Manchester United striker Alessia Russo in just the fourth minute.
Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp and James added further goals before the break.
Wang Shuang converted a second-half penalty for China, but James got her second with a sublime volley, substitute Chloe Kelly was gifted a fifth after a goalkeeper howler and Rachel Daly got in on the act as the clock ticked down.
Chelsea forward James had a hand in five of the goals and said scoring twice was “what dreams are made of”.
“I felt free, whether I am on the wing or the middle I am just happy to be on the pitch. I think like last game I thought, why not hit it and see what happens?” she said.
“Yeah (Nigeria will be) very tough, every team has been tough -– teams are catching up with each other.”
– Memorable night for England –
China’s tournament ended at the group stage for the first time and in humbling fashion.
The Steel Roses, an early powerhouse in women’s football, made at least the round of 16 in the six previous World Cups they have played, finishing runners-up in 1999 during their heyday.
England, who only needed a point to top the table, started without injured Barcelona midfielder Keira Walsh.
Manchester United captain Katie Zelem replaced her in one of three changes with Jess Carter and Hemp returning in place of Kelly and Ella Toone.
They made a dream start with Hemp breaking down the left and whipping in a dangerous cross which James headed down to Russo. She took one touch before burying it in the corner.
The inevitable second goal came in the 26th minute.
Skipper Millie Bright won possession and slotted through to James, who played in Hemp between two defenders and she finished confidently.
James added a third from a well-worked freekick routine, firing a stunner from the edge of the box.
England were unlucky not to be 4-0 ahead at half-time with another fantastic James strike disallowed for offside.
China had to wait until the 52nd minute for their first chance, but they won a penalty for handball with Wang converting.
But James produced a high-class side-footed volley for their fourth and when Chinese goalkeeper Zhu Yu horribly misjudged a ball over the top, Kelly pounced for a fifth.
Daly made it a memorable night with another fine volley at the death.
– Danes ease through –
The Danes, playing at their first World Cup since 2007, thought they had scored early against Haiti in front of just under 18,000 in Perth but it was ruled out after a VAR review found Simone Boye was just off-side.
Denmark made their early pressure count when Haiti conceded a penalty — their third at this World Cup — for handball.
Skipper Pernille Harder scored from the spot.
Haiti had a golden opportunity just before the half-hour, but captain Nerilia Mondesir’s effort was weak and easily saved by goalkeeper Lene Christensen.
Denmark sealed the deal deep in stoppage time through Sanne Troelsgaard.