Extra Time: Let Lauren James Play (If England Wins)

11 minute read

This story first appeared in Extra Time, our pop-up newsletter about the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Get it in your inbox by subscribing here.

On The Stomp

The round of 16 gave this World Cup its first real Big Controversy: emerging English star Lauren James stepping on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie late in their knockout-stage battle. You can see it here. James deservedly received a red card and was removed from the game, which forced the Lionesses to compete with one less player. England survived the challenge: the 0-0 game went to penalty kicks, which the Lionesses won 4-2. They face Colombia on Saturday, August 12, at 6:30 a.m. E.T. 

While James will miss the game against Colombia because of her violation, FIFA could also suspend her for the rest of the tournament. Such a decision will likely come after the England-Colombia game. So before becoming overly concerned about James’ status, England needs to focus on winning without her first. Which won’t be easy: James has been a breakout spark plug at this tournament, scoring a goal against Denmark in the group stage and then scoring a pair of goals and assisting on three others in England’s 6-1 rout of China in their final group-stage game.   

FIFA could do a lot of good here by announcing now that James can play if England advances. There’s little need to extend her punishment. Yes, James made an egregious error. She was frustrated and took it out on Alozie. 

But Alozie herself has given James some grace. And that should count for plenty in FIFA’s eyes. “We are playing on the world’s stage,” Alozie wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “This game is one of passion, insurmountable emotions, and moments. All respect for Lauren James.”  

James issued an apology to Alozie, which seemed sincere. Right after the game, according to the AP, Alozie said, “I’m fine. My butt is fine from her stepping on it, but I mean everyone was in a high-pressure situation.” Alozie even laughed about it. 

“There’s no hard feelings,” Alozie said. “It’s just a game.”

If England advances, I hope to see James back on the pitch for the semis. Indeed, it’s a game. And it’s better off with the best players actually playing. 

Quarterfinal Rundown 

Here’s the full round of 8 lineup: 

Spain vs. Netherlands, Thursday, August 10, 9 p.m. E.T. in Wellington, New Zealand 

Spain hasn’t played a close game yet, having thumped Costa Rica 3-0 and Zambia 5-0 in the group stage, and destroying Switzerland 5-1 in the round of 16. Meanwhile, Las Rojas were crushed by Japan 4-0 in the group stage too. Which Spain will show up in the quarters? The Dutch, who defeated South Africa 2-0 in the knockout round, haven’t lost in this World Cup to date, and seemed primed to make another understated, but effective, run to the final.  

Japan vs. Sweden, Friday, August 11, 3:30 a.m. E.T. in Auckland, New Zealand 

Japan—2011 World Cup champ, 2015 runner-up—is arguably the most impressive team in the tournament so far. Sweden, which needed penalty kicks to eke out a win over the U.S. in a game the Americans controlled, is probably the best women’s soccer team to never win a major global tournament. Sweden has won silver medals at the last two Olympics, was World Cup runner-up in 2003, and placed third at the World Cup in 1999, 2011, and 2019. 

Who doesn’t love a high-stakes quarterfinal in the middle of the night? 

France vs. Australia, Saturday, August 12, 3 a.m. E.T. in Brisbane, Australia 

France rolls into the game against the home team coming off a convincing 4-0 shutout of Morocco in the round of 16. Is Australia, however, simply a team of destiny? Hayley Raso’s goal against Denmark in the knockout stage, which put the Matildas up 2-0 in the 70th minute, was sublime, as it came off a sequence of patient dribbling and deft touch-passing in the box. Plus, Australian star Sam Kerr finally made her World Cup debut in the 80th minute of the round of 16. She’d been sidelined by a calf injury. The Chelsea striker could start against France, making the Matildas an even tougher out.

England vs. Colombia, Saturday, August 12, 6:30 a.m. E.T. in Sydney, Australia 

We’ve talked about the challenges England faces with James’ uncertain status. But it’s worth stating again: the Lionesses can’t afford to look past Colombia, whose 1-0 win in the round of 16 earned Las Cafeteras a quarterfinal berth. Against Jamaica, Colombia knocked on the door throughout the first half, before finally breaking through in the 51st minute: a gorgeous long ball from Ana Guzman—who’s only 18—found the foot of Catalina Usme, Colombia’s captain. Usme put the pass into the net to give her team the game’s only goal. Guzman and forward Linda Caicedo, also 18, lead a Colombia youth movement that could make Las Cafeteras just the second South American country to reach the women’s World Cup semis. (Brazil made the Final Four in 1999 and 2007.)  

Grant's Finest

While watching France-Morocco earlier in this week, sports journalist and author Alexander Wolff couldn’t help but think about his close friend Grant Wahl, the preeminent American soccer journalist who died suddenly last year, at 49, of an aortic aneurysm while covering the Qatar World Cup. At Tuesday’s game, Morocco’s Nouhaila Benzina became the first player in World Cup history to compete in a hijab. In France, however, a top administrative court upheld a ban earlier this summer that disallows women’s soccer players from wearing the headscarves in games.

“I have this feeling,” says Wolff, “that would have been a story Grant really got himself around.” 

Many soccer fans are missing Wahl this World Cup: it’s the first one since the 1998 Men’s World Cup, which Wahl worked as a 24-year-old writer for Sports Illustrated, that he hasn’t covered. After the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) was eliminated before the semis for the first time ever, Wahl would have expertly broken down what went wrong, on his Substack, on social media, on podcasts and TV appearances.

I, and so many soccer fans, miss the quick-hit “Three Thoughts” columns he’d filed minutes after the final whistle. Wahl caught you up on what you might have missed, or put what you just witnessed in the proper perspective. 

And he particularly relished exploring the intersection of soccer and society. Stories like France’s soccer hijab ban. He did this on countless occasions. 

Luckily for his many fans, Wolff has joined a team working to keep Wahl’s legacy alive. Wolff and Mark Mravic, Wahl’s primary soccer editor during his years at Sports Illustrated who also edited the Substack Wahl created in the years before his death, are co-editing a book that will be released in June 2024. The working title is Master of Modern Sports Writing: The Life and Work of Grant Wahl. (The title is a homage to Wahl’s second book, the 2018 Masters of Modern Soccer.

Master of Modern Sports Writing will be a collection of Wahl’s best work, spanning three decades of his career and even including a few pieces from his undergraduate years at Princeton University, as well as some non-soccer writing, particularly from his days as a college-basketball beat writer at Sports Illustrated. Ballantine, the book’s publisher, chose next summer for a release date because three major international soccer events will unfold: Euro 2024, the men’s European championship, hosted by Germany; Copa América, the championship of the Americas, which the U.S. is hosting; and the Paris Olympics, the next major global event on the women’s soccer calendar. Wahl was definitely the most prominent American journalist to first cover the women’s game with the same fervor as the men’s. (Here’s his cover story on the USWNT’s historic 1999 victory.)   

Wolff and Mravic will introduce each piece with what they are calling “head notes”—context and scene setting and snippets of background on how each story came together. “It’ll almost be like a journalism seminar,” says Wolff. “The hope is that people can read this from front to back, and in addition to marinating in Grant’s ability to tell a story, they also get a sense of what it takes to be a sportswriter today. Particularly the multiplatform requirement of it.” 

Wolff recommends checking out a trio of somewhat under-the-radar pieces from Wahl’s canon that still hold up (they’re set to be included in the book): his 2021 deep dive into how Argentina was coping with Diego Maradona’s death, his profile of American star Clint Dempsey going into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and his delightful 2006 tale about Jay DeMerit, “an MLS reject playing in the fields of London’s city parks” suddenly playing on the grandest stage in pro club soccer, the English Premiership.   

“He’s the Rocky Balboa of English football,” a coach told Wahl.

The occasion for this book’s publication is still sad. But I’m so happy it’s arriving next summer. 

Down Under Dispatch

Friend of Extra Time Belinda Luscombe, my TIME colleague who is currently in Australia visiting her family, took her mother out to dinner a few nights ago while the Matildas were playing Denmark in the round of 16. She sends in this sweet and telling snippet:   

I was in a family-style pub in a sleepy coastal retirement area of New South Wales and the dinner service had ended and the tavern was clearing out. But there was a group of about eight older women who had clearly gathered together to watch the match. One of them was even wearing an Australian soccer jersey.

It occurred to me that this very ordinary act—going to the pub to see younger versions of themselves in a game—was not something they could have done when they were my age, or really almost any age until quite recently. It was just very touching to see them turn out for their team and how excited they were for the Matildas. 

I took my older person home from the pub before the match was over (she watched from there, go Matildas!), but as I left, I turned and gave the women a thumbs-up and they gleefully signaled back. Even if the team had lost, it seemed that just by this everyday gathering, something had definitely been gained.

Courtesy Belinda Luscombe

Recommended Reading/Viewing

“I am lost.” Tobin Heath and Christen Press react to the USWNT round of 16 loss to Sweden. Plus, Heath interviews Sweden captain Kosovare Asllani about the Blue and Yellow’s game plan against the U.S. and the upcoming quarterfinal versus Japan. (The RE-CAP Show) 

How the USWNT’s World Cup loss proves the Barbie movie right. (Los Angeles Times)

Sweden’s Lina Hurtig doesn’t want to watch her game-winning penalty shot anymore. (CNN)

Who will emerge from this round of 8? It’s really anyone’s game. (AP)

The CIA is all over this World Cup. That's right: the agency's World Factbook has added one-page profiles of each of the quarterfinal countries, with information on the soccer history of each entrant, plus stats on population, demography, economics, and geography (the World Cup winner, for example, of recent population growth among the quarter finalists ... Australia). (CIA)

Parting Thought

Yes, it’s a bummer that the USWNT is no longer in this World Cup. Fox Sports execs are particularly miffed: the U.S. women are the tournament’s biggest draw, and America’s exit, combined with inconvenient starting times for so much of the country, will certainly result in lower ratings. 

But that’s no reason to abandon this World Cup. We’ll have a new champion for the first time in a dozen years. The play has been high-level: so many nations are fighting to break through, so many international players are making their marks. The games promise to be even more competitive and exciting without a single dominant force, which the U.S. has been for so long. 

I’ll be keeping the coffee hot. Hope you will too.

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com