Two goals and three assists from Lauren James led a revived England attack and ensured the Lionesses secured top spot in Group D with a thumping 6-1 victory over China at the Women’s World Cup.
Alessia Russo opened her account for the tournament after four minutes while Lauren Hemp and James made it three by the halfway point, with James seeing another chalked off following a VAR check in stoppage time at Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium.
Wang Shuang clawed one back with a spot-kick after the break, but strikes from substitute Chloe Kelly and Rachel Daly assured the Lionesses of a dominant victory in front of 13,497 in the stands.
England next travel back to Brisbane, where they will face Nigeria in the last 16 on Monday.
While England’s 1-0 group-stage victories over Haiti and Denmark might have felt like home contests, China received tremendous, flag-waving, drum-banging support at the home of A-League’s Adelaide United.
After much speculation as to how boss Sarina Wiegman would cope without injured midfielder Keira Walsh, who remained at England’s New South Wales base camp, the answer came in the form of Manchester United’s Katie Zelem, making her first start for the Lionesses.
Jess Carter and Hemp both returned, with Ella Toone and Kelly making way.
England’s opener came as a result of a fine pass from Hemp in the build-up and a header from James to set up Russo to slot past Zhu Yu.
With the goal, Russo ensured England became the first side in Women’s World Cup history to score at least once in 16 consecutive matches, and, for the first time this tournament, they were not done.
While there had been numerous reassurances that new connections were forming in training, actions in Adelaide finally began to back up those words.
After Millie Bright’s booted clearance halted a wave of Chinese momentum in England’s final third, the Lionesses were back on the prowl with a passing sequence that began with Bright then James, resulting in Hemp tapping in for England’s second.
Lucy Bronze watched her header ping off the far post and she could not manage to make anything out of her own rebound, firing wide, while Zhu got her fingertips on Georgia Stanway’s nodded effort.
But James, who scored the only goal against Denmark, soon extended the Lionesses’ advantage to three goals from Alex Greenwood’s free-kick, which she calmly curled over the heads of a crowd of red shirts and in for her second of the tournament.
It almost looked as though the Chelsea forward had made it four in stoppage time but, following a lengthy VAR check, Australian referee Casey Reibelt ruled Bronze offside in the build-up.
Mary Earps was alive to Wu Chengshu’s low, drilled effort after the restart, then Bronze found herself once again on the wrong end of a video replay, this time punished for a handball that appeared to have hit her chest.
Reibelt, however, pointed to the spot and striker Wang made no mistake as she sent Earps the wrong way to claw one back for China from a 57th-minute penalty, with Bronze booked for her protest.
It was not long before England restored their three-goal advantage through James, who lifted the ball past Zhu from Carter’s fine pass to make it 4-1 after 66 minutes.
Five minutes later, Kelly, who one year and one day ago struck in England’s historic Euro 2022 winner, came on as one of three substitutes and made a near-instant impact from six yards out with her strike, the assist again coming from 21-year-old James.
If that was not enough to assure England that their goal drought had finally come to a close, Daly made it 6-1 with an emphatic volley before another late save from Earps denied Chen Qiaozhu the chance to narrow the gap.
After 11 minutes of stoppage time, England were able to celebrate.