European champions England stood on the brink of the Women’s World Cup last 16 after a Lauren James cracker in the sixth minute gave them a 1-0 win over Denmark on Friday.
But an otherwise hugely satisfactory night for England in front of just over 40,000 fans in Sydney was marred by what looked like a serious knee injury to influential midfielder Keira Walsh.
On a night of mixed emotions, Sarina Wiegman’s side will seal their place in the knockout rounds if Asian champions China fail to beat debutants Haiti later Friday.
Denmark might have stolen a point with three minutes left in normal time when, despite having as little as 20 percent of the possession for much of the game, Amalie Vangsgaard shaved the outside of the England post with a header.
Wiegman made two changes from the team that squeezed past Haiti 1-0 in their opener, Rachel Daly and James coming into the starting XI.
And it was the 21-year-old Chelsea forward James who was the star of the first half, before fading in the second.
She needed just six minutes to justify her inclusion, drifting off the left into the middle, skipping past a weak challenge and bending the ball with her right foot into the bottom corner from outside the box.
James, sister of Chelsea’s England men’s international Reece James, was everywhere.
Twice in a minute she threatened another as England — wearing black armbands in memory of former international Trevor Francis, who died this week aged 69 — went in search of a second.
Yet for all that, Denmark nearly equalised with their first chance on 24 minutes when Rikke Marie Madsen took the ball inside the area on the turn and flashed just wide of the far post.
The Danes, ranked 13 in the world to England’s four, were a threat on the break.
Skipper Pernille Harder shot straight at goalkeeper Mary Earps as Denmark carved out three decent looks at goal within a few minutes.
A night that had been going so well for the Lionesses then suffered a significant setback when Walsh, a key cog in the team that won the Euro last year, tumbled over and appeared to badly hurt her knee.
She was stretchered off in tears and replaced by Laura Coombs seven minutes before half-time, a question mark now hanging over the rest of the Barcelona player’s World Cup.
England were already missing captain Leah Williamson and Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner Beth Mead, both ruled out before the tournament with knee injuries.
The second half was more of the same: England with most of the chances and possession, but Denmark looking to hit on the break.
That is what they did when Vangsgaard darted into the six-yard box, her header centimetres from snatching a point.
In the final round of Group D games on Tuesday, England face China and Denmark play Haiti.
World Cup News
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday blasted as “insufficient” the apology given by...
Spain’s Women’s World Cup hero Olga Carmona paid tribute to her father on Monday...
Spain midfielder Jenni Hermoso defended Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales after he came...
Sunday’s World Cup final between England and Spain is the final act of a...