Rachel Daly revealed her pre-match premonition about England team-mate Lauren James came true on Tuesday night after the Chelsea prodigy scored twice and picked up three assists in the 6-1 victory over China at the World Cup.
James, 21, became the first England player of either gender to be directly involved in five or more goals in a World Cup match as the Lionesses clinched top of group D to set up a last-16 meeting with Nigeria in Brisbane on Monday.
Daly was one of five Lionesses who got their names on the scoresheet at Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium, where boss Sarina Wiegman switched to an inspired 3-5-2 system in the wake of an undisclosed knee injury to midfield maestro Keira Walsh.
Versatile Daly, who happily occupied an unfamiliar left wing-back role in the shake-up, said: “I will just say one thing, last night (Monday) we were walking round the pitch and we have come out of here and there’s the ‘player of the match’ sign as you walk out. I said: ‘Have a look at that kid, because that will be you tomorrow night’.
“That’s how much we back her! She is unbelievable. I have got no more words to say about her. She is growing and growing and the most important thing is we keep around her.
“She is a young player at the end of the day and she’s learning every day. She can pick up little bits from the older players, but she is LJ – and she’s brilliant.
“She has got great technical ability, but those (goals) come out in training all the time. It’s nothing new for us.
“Like I said the other day, it’s just nice for the rest of the world to see how good she is. ‘Cheat code’ as everyone is calling her. That’s what she is.”
England only scored once in each of their first two group-stage victories, first through Georgia Stanway’s penalty against Haiti before James netted six minutes into her first World Cup start, ultimately enough for three points against Denmark.
Tournament veteran Daly – who started every game of England’s European championship-winning campaign – had called for patience earlier in the week over concerns that the Lionesses were not living up to their world number four billing, particularly in attack against a Haiti side 49 places below them in FIFA’s world rankings.
Others joined her, often accompanying the call with a reminder that this was not the same squad that lifted the trophy at Wembley 367 days ago, following the retirements of Ellen White and Jill Scott and injuries to Beth Mead, Fran Kirby and Leah Williamson.
Walsh, who was also part of that triumph, remained at England base camp on Tuesday after it was determined she did not injure her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), though her status for the remainder of the tournament remains unclear.
Daly said: “I think obviously there has been a lot of criticism about us not being ruthless enough.
“I said we would grow into the games and it’s tournament football. It’s not about the first, second, third win, it’s how we grow into it.
“We knew it would come and that it would only be a matter of time before we scored goals – and there were some unbelievable goals on display (against China).
“I think (the formation change) is what tournament football is all about. We have got that in our locker now.
“We know that we can do that system and keep growing and working on that.
“We obviously can revert back to type with a 4-3-3. It’s another weapon in the armoury.”