She’s been heralded as the one to watch in England’s squad, but there’s no chance Lauren James will buckle under the pressure.
England legend Fara Williams has been in ‘constant communication’ with the forward since the pair met at Arsenal years ago.
Williams, on punditry duty with the during the World Cup, told Metro.co.uk: ‘She’s so chilled and nothing phases her. Whether that be in football or when we’re having a together – she’s always relaxed.
‘To get the best out of Lauren James in this World Cup we have to play her in a position that is best to suit both her and the team.
‘We’ll all have our opinions on what that best position is, but Sarina Wiegman will know best. I think [it’s important] to not put too much pressure on her.
‘Lauren Hemp was one we all hoped would deliver at the Euros.
‘I’m not sitting here saying that she didn’t do that, but there’s the levels we know Lauren Hemp can play at, and she probably didn’t get to reach those levels at the Euros given the pressure that was put on her for the tournament.
‘I don’t want the same to happen to Lauren James at the World Cup.’
James’s laid-back mentality – ‘sometimes I have to push her to walk!’, jokes Williams- will allow her to enter the games with a level-head, the England legend added.
She continues: ‘Watching her on the pitch, it can look like she’s going in slow-mo, but just try tackle her and I promise you can’t.
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover, if you ask any of the girls that play with or against her, it doesn’t matter what speed she’s travelling at, you cannot touch her with the ball. She’s just a phenomenal talent.
‘I love it, she just oozes class when she’s on the pitch and I admire that.’
The England squad touched down in Australia last week with players and the official Lionesses account sharing insights into their time abroad.
What’s also been notable to the England legend is James’s growing friendship with Lucy Bronze.
‘Whenever you see Lionesses edits of training and downtime, they’re always together’ continues Williams.
‘I think having a connection off the pitch certainly helps.
‘Having that right hand side with Lucy at full back, I think they could build a really good connection and a pair we should watch out for.’
Other than England, Williams says she’s excited to watch Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí work some magic.
The midfielder is often overshadowed by Ballon D’or winner and Barcelona legend Alexia Putellas.
But it’s Bomnati that gets both club and country ‘ticking’, Williams says.
And while Bronze and James could create the link-up magic to enjoy within the Lionesses, Caitlin Foord and Sam Kerr of Australia could produce similar excitement.
The pair have been rivals at Arsenal and Chelsea during the Women’s Super League (WSL) season, but will come together – bolstered by the home soil advantage – to be a combined force to be reckoned with, Williams reckons.
Norway also come into the tournament with ‘something to prove’ after an embarrassing 8-0 defeat to England in the Euros last year.
Williams adds: ‘Norway’s Guro Reiten has had a great season at Chelsea. When I think of her and [Norway teammate] Ada Hegerberg, there’s huge potential there if they can build a connection like Reiten has with Sam Kerr at Chelsea.
‘If they do, Norway could be frightening.
‘We could also see some link-up play with Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith [of the United States] creating goals. They’re both incredibly exciting young talent.’
For Williams, who retired from football in 2021, it’s a sense of deja vu with the USA once again being favourites.
Many fans remember the heartbreak of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, with a last minute unsuccessful penalty sending the Lionesses home in the semi-finals against the American giants.
Williams adds: ‘You have a point to prove when you play the USA.
‘When we played them I’d go “oh they’re cocky” but they’re not. We just thought that because they were so good.
‘They deserve to carry themselves the way they do, they’ve earned that through their success.’
Williams credits her own World Cup highlight as being in 2015, when a ‘positive’ England squad came third.
The success came after finally defeating Germany, who had become rivals to the Lionesses after years of defeats.
Williams scored the winning penalty and recalls sprinting in front of German players during her celebration.
She adds: ‘It was an arrogant, maybe a really cocky thing to do, but to celebrate beating them for the first time in 18 years – it felt so good!
‘We had a good culture on and off the pitch that year.
‘It was during the 2015 Women’s World Cup that we’d built the ‘Lionesses’ brand again instead of ‘England Women’ and fans really got on board.
‘I also have good memories of my first World Cup, in China in 2007. It was overwhelming and we [England] weren’t really ready compared to other nations.
‘But the whole experience was still just so special. You dream of playing in a World Cup as a kid, so it was a dream come true.’
Going into the Women’s World Cup, an array of nations have had well-reported battles for better pay, conditions and support from federations.
It’s a sore point for Williams, who went through similar fights during her playing career.
She continued; ‘All these complications do act as a distraction to each nation whether they would like to admit it or not
‘The teams that go in with the clearest mindset – with less off the pitch distractions and less injuries – will probably be the ones that go the furthest in the tournament. We could see a country win the World Cup that never has done before.
‘Recently we’ve seen discussions about England’s pay scenario which for me is a bit worrying.
‘When I was playing, we had a very disappointing Euros run in 2013.
‘We’d reached the Olympics the year before and the success of that put us in a position to argue our case with the FA for better pay.
‘We had meetings to try come up with a bonus strategy that would work. Looking back, it was the sole focus of the squad and a huge distraction. We got knocked out the group stages of the Euros in 2013 with a hugely talented squad, and that led to the sacking of Hope Powell.
‘If these pay distractions are dominating – but I hope they aren’t – the Lionesses then that can really shift your mentality going into a tournament.
‘I still think England are favourites, there is some amazing talent on the team and I just can’t wait for them to get started.’
Fara Williams will join BBC Sport’s FIFA Women’s World Cup coverage across BBC television, BBC iPlayer & BBC Sounds.
She’ll have an energy drink in hand for the earlier games –
The tournament starts on the BBC, with coverage of New Zealand v Norway live on BBC One & BBC iPlayer this Thursday (8am kick-off).
Williams added: ‘When it comes to football fans, there’s no time too difficult to watch a game.
We don’t need an alarm – we wake up excited.’
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