England is through to the quarterfinals of the World Cup and that will be all that matters for now. Four of its penalty kicks went in and two of Nigeria’s did not, and on a night when not much went according to plan, that was enough. The other questions — important questions — can wait for a day.
After a brief gasp when Georgia Stanway opened the penalty kick shootout by missing the first attempt, England’s victory was delivered in short order: Beth England, Rachel Daly, Alex Greenwood and Chloe Kelly hammered home their efforts in quick succession and Nigeria, which missed two of its four, was beaten.
The questions, though, will follow Sarina Wiegman’s England into the quarterfinals later this week. Prime among them: What, exactly, was Lauren James thinking?
James, 21, had been a revelation for England at her first World Cup, scoring three goals in four games — one against Denmark and then two against China — as her team built momentum and expectations in the group stage.
But in the 87th minute against Nigeria, she threw her tournament into jeopardy with a stunning loss of composure: Fouled near the sideline, James responded with a shove to the back of her fallen opponent, Michelle Alozie, and then, inexplicably, a stamp on Alozie’s back as she jogged away.
The action was flagged for the Honduran referee, Melissa Borjas, by the video assistant referee. Borjas jogged over to see a replay on the sideline monitor and returned to produce a red card. James was off, and England was down to 10 players just as the game went to extra time.
When might she be back? That is unclear. The red card would mean a one-game suspension. But since it was for violent conduct, FIFA will review the incident and could choose to extend her ban.
“It was a split second,” Wiegman said of James’s red card. “She’s an inexperienced player on this stage and she’s done really well. And I think in a split second, she just sort of lost her emotions.”
On a team already weakened by injuries, the ejection of James could be a game-changer, especially after another valuable midfielder, Keira Walsh, was subbed off after 120 minutes when she appeared to sustain an injury.
Her presence on the field at that moment had drawn questions by itself: Walsh had injured a knee early in the group stage, so seriously that it was initially feared she would miss the rest of the tournament. But she only missed one game, against China, and then returned to the starting lineup on Monday.
Now she is limping again, and her fitness — just like James’s suspension — will hang over England as it prepares for a quarterfinal against the Colombia-Jamaica winner on Saturday.
But that, and the other questions, can wait. For now England is alive, and that is all that matters.