As England and Nigeria went to extra time in their round of 16 game on Monday, and then to penalty kicks, the result was still uncertain but the day’s most obvious question was crystal clear:
What, exactly, was Lauren James thinking?
James had been a revelation for England at her first World Cup, scoring three goals in four games — one against Denmark and then two against China — as her team built momentum and expectations in the group stage.
But in the 87th minute against Nigeria, she was gone: Fouled near the sideline, James responded with a shove to the back of her fallen opponent, Michelle Alozie, and then, inexplicably, a stamp on Alozie’s back as she jogged away.
The action was flagged for the Honduran referee, Melissa Borjas, by the video assistant referee. Borjas jogged over to see a replay on the sideline monitor and returned to produce a red card. James was off, and England was down to 10 players just as the game went to extra time.
Her punishment, though, may yet get worse. The red card would mean a one-game suspension. But since it was for violent conduct, FIFA will review the incident and could choose to extend her ban.
On a team already weakened by injuries, her ejection could be a game-changer. James’s performances and a helpful bracket has even started talk of a potential title run by the Lionesses. Now she may miss most of it, if England can even get there without her.