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England warn ‘best yet to come’ despite James World Cup ban

Goalkeeper Mary Earps said the “best is yet to come” from England despite losing Lauren James for two Women’s World Cup games starting with the quarter-final on Saturday against Colombia.

The 21-year-old attacker was punished by FIFA after her red card in the last 16 for stamping on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie, ruling her out until the final should the European champions get that far.

Chelsea’s James had been instrumental prior to that, including two goals and three assists in a 6-1 thrashing of China, and the winner against Denmark.

“We have a squad of 23, we know how we want to fill that position,” coach Sarina Wiegman said on the eve of the meeting with Colombia in Sydney.

“It’s two games, that’s a fact for us, we respect the punishment. We take it from here and hope we get through.”

James has publicly apologised and Earps said: “Now she faces the consequences and as a team we stick together, stand behind her and she will support the team absolutely while she serves that (ban).

“Naturally we want everyone to be available all the time but it is what it is. We are a very together and cohesive unit and the focus is very much on the game tomorrow.”

England only stumbled into the quarter-finals 4-2 on penalties over 40th-ranked Nigeria, forced to play extra time a player down after James’s red card.

They can expect another tough battle from an attacking Colombia side brimming with confidence after making the last eight for the first time, upsetting Germany along the way.

But Earps said England were in “a really good spot” and “we’ve got more gears”.

“I think you’ve seen glimpses of what we’re capable of,” she added. “I really think the best is yet to come.”

Move the pieces

Colombia coach Nelson Abadia is confident his side’s strength of character will carry them through to the semi-finals.

“We know all the history that England brings in football, it’s important,” said Abadia, whose 25th-ranked side made the last eight by edging Jamaica 1-0.

“But for me, it’s 11 against 11 and the optimism is the same we have for every match.

“There are several variables in any match — technical, tactical, physical,” he added. “But what’s important for me is the strength in the team’s character and that is going to be vital for what we need to do.” 

Like Wiegman, Abadia has a selection dilemma and must decide whether to keep faith with attacking defender Ana Guzman, who played against Jamaica in place of the suspended Manuela Vanegas.

It was the composed 18-year-old’s tournament debut and her wonderful cross set up captain Catalina Usme to score their only goal.

Vanegas is available again, but Abadia said he planned to keep England guessing.

“Football is like chess, you need to know how to move the pieces,” he said.

“We need to be chess players and analyse. We have analysed England and our opportunities and what our best chances are going to be,” he added.

“But as a coaching team we trust our players whoever we call on.”

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