Ellen White column

There is no way that Lauren James’ red card against Nigeria will negatively affect the spirit and togetherness of this England squad. If anything, it will make their bond even stronger.

It was a moment of madness but it didn’t cost them on Monday. England are not going home from the Women’s World Cup because she got sent off.

Instead, they can move on as a team and have Saturday’s quarter-final against Colombia to look forward to.

If they had lost to Nigeria, the worry would have been that James could have faced a backlash on social media - and you would not want that hanging over her.

She has been a massive star for England but, depending on the length of her ban, we might not see her again at this tournament even if they reach the final.

That would be a huge shame, but the other players will rally around and support her because it’s what they do.

How being targeted can help your team

James was frustrated because Nigeria marked her so well that she did not get on the ball as much as in her previous games at this World Cup.

She lit up this tournament with her performances and goals against Denmark and China, which is why Nigeria tried so hard to nullify her.

It’s a compliment that the opposition see you as being so dangerous that they target like that, and you have to use it to your team’s advantage.

Something similar happened with Lauren Hemp at last year’s European Championship when opponents went two on one with her most of the time, but that just meant Beth Mead was left open.

Hopefully James can learn from this and, next time it happens, do some problem-solving on the pitch and think about how she can use the fact she is being closely marked to free up some space for someone else.

She wasn’t the only one who struggled to adapt and impose themselves against Nigeria, however.

I was surprised that England didn’t really seem ready for the way they were set up - the whole team didn’t play with the intensity that we saw against China, which made it difficult to impose their style of play on Nigeria. It made it a very hard game to watch.

England doing things differently this time

Despite everything, England are into the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

The way they got there - being down to 10 players for the whole of extra time and not being at their best for most of the match - will only help galvanise them for whatever tests they face next.

Whenever you get through a game like that, the main feeling is relief.

But moments like this give the team far more than that - they bring the whole squad together and it has probably shaken them a bit as well.

As players, you know there are only so many times you can ride your luck, and England will know they were very close to going out.

Instead, they showed great resilience to keep another clean sheet against a team who dominated and created a lot of chances, then they won a penalty shootout.

Pretty much every team who win a major tournament must get through a game like that. You usually have to survive some setbacks at some point.

I was part of the side that won Euro 2022, and we were very lucky that we had no injuries or suspensions from start to finish.

The only thing that came up that threw things even slightly was when manager Sarina Wiegman missed our final group game against Northern Ireland because of Covid.

The quarter-final against Spain was the only game where we went behind and had to change our gameplan by putting defender Millie Bright up front in search of a goal.

Throughout that entire tournament Wiegman did not really have to go into her tool box and think about a Plan B, let alone C or D.

At this World Cup, with injuries and now James’ suspension, she is probably on Plan F or G already.

It feels like every game has thrown up something different but, so far, Wiegman and England have handled it. The team are still united and they will believe in her ability to figure things out.

Colombia will provide the next challenge and, although England will be favourites again, I don’t think anyone will take that game for granted after what has happened at this tournament.

I have loved seeing the togetherness, passion and joy from so many teams who have performed above expectations - and they have shown that being ranked higher or lower does not really count for anything any more.

The unpredictability of so many games has made it a really exciting few weeks, even if watching England has not been easy.

Ellen White was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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