Katie Zelem in action for England against China

Zelem reacts after first England start

Tuesday 01 August 2023 15:10

Manchester United Women captain Katie Zelem said she was "very excited" about making her first England start and pleased to play her part in a dominant victory over China.

The Lionesses comfortably progressed to the knockout stage as winners of Group D after the thumping 6-1 victory - which equalled their record win at a Women’s World Cup after they thrashed Argentina by the same scoreline in the 2007 group stage.

Much of the pre-match debate centred around how the Lionesses would replace key midfielder Keira Walsh, who suffered a serious knee injury in the 1-0 win over Denmark last Friday.

Zelem smiles in celebration following former United team-mate Lauren James's second goal.

Manager Sarina Wiegman decided to give Zelem an opportunity from the start on the big stage in a bid to fill the void and the 27-year-old repaid the faith shown in her with a solid all-round display, alongside Georgia Stanway in the first half and Laura Coombs in the second period.

“You could see by the smiles on our faces how we felt,” Zelem told BBC Radio 5 Live after the game in Adelaide.

“It looked like a lot of things had come together that we had been working with on the training pitch came off.”

On when she found out that she was playing, she said: “We announce the line-ups the night before so I was very excited, my first start for England in any game.”

Lauren James was undoubtedly the Player of the Match after registering an impressive two goals and three assists, but Zelem is not surprised that her former United team-mate is fulfilling a starring role.

"China were really organised, there wasn't too much space for me and Georgia [Stanway] in the first half but it allowed players like LJ [Lauren James] to get on the ball and who better to get on the ball in an England shirt than Lauren James?

"I've know LJ for a long time, played with her at Manchester United so I've known the talent she had so there is no surprise she is playing this well at the tournament and hopefully it will continue."

Zelem will hope to get another chance to play when England’s next challenge comes on Monday in the form of Nigeria in the round of 16.

“Every team that gets into the knockout stages deserves to be there so we know it will be a difficult test and we're ready for it,” the midfielder added.

Reds trio help England advance at World Cup


Mary Earps, Ella Toone and Katie Zelem played their part as the Lionesses reach the last 16.

England coach Wiegman was pleased with how Zelem and other team-mates stepped up to perform.

“That was really good,” she told ITV Sport. “I think what we expected from China was that they would press a little high because they had to win to go through.

“But they just stayed in shape and I don’t think they expected us to play the way we did and they didn’t find a solution.

“There were some things I wanted to try and Katie [Zelem] got some space in the centre especially when we played the ball forward and there were many opportunities.

“But it also helps and it’s pretty impressive when Lucy [Bronze] and Rachel [Daly] can just press up quickly in possession and out of possession and today it worked really well.”

Former England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was delighted to see Zelem receive her first minutes of the tournament and grasp the opportunity.

“It's been lovely to see Katie Zelem get on and impact the game positively amid all the noise about who would play in that position,” she told BBC Radio Five Live.

“A lot of people were questioning whether Sarina Wiegman trust her players and this has been a huge nod.”

Ex-England forward Eni Aluko also gave Zelem credit for how she played on what was a huge occasion for her personally.

“This was the biggest game of her career so far,” Aluko told ITV Sport. “This position is about simplicity and she took up some great positions, both defensively and offensively. I’m really pleased for Katie, well done to her.”