Eni Aluko on the ‘best ever’ Women’s World Cup, why ‘naive’ Lauren James will learn from her red card and what advice she would give to the Lionesses ahead of their quarter-final against Colombia
- Ex-England star Eni Aluko believes it has been the best ever Women’s World Cup
- Aluko also insisted the Lionesses must support Lauren James after her red card
- Click here to watch Mail Sport’s brand new show ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ in full
World Cup fever is slowly gripping the nation.
Over the past three weeks we’ve been treated to a whole host of great matches, dramatic moments and upsets at the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, while we even saw England win a penalty shootout.
Underdogs like Jamaica, Haiti, Nigeria and the Philippines have stolen our hearts, with Olympic champions Canada, two-time winners the USA and tournament favourites Brazil and Germany all already eliminated.
There have been packed stadiums, mammoth viewing figures and a general wave of excitement back in England about what Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses could do just a year after they won Euro 2022.
‘I’ve absolutely loved it,’ former England international and current pundit Eni Aluko exclusively told Mail Sport – speaking via ITV Sport.
England are in the World Cup quarter-finals after an enthralling three weeks of the tournament
The Lionesses narrowly edged out Nigeria in the last-16 after winning 4-2 in a penalty shootout
Ex-England international and ITV pundit Eni Aluko spoke to Mail Sport about the tournament
It has already been full of upsets, with two-time winners the USA among the teams eliminated
‘It’s been brilliant, the best Women’s World Cup we’ve ever seen. There’s been parity across the groups and some big upsets.
‘That’s what you want if you were to ask somebody before what the ingredients are for a special tournament. You want upsets, storylines, narratives and I think we’ve had everything.
‘There’s been great goals, penalty shootouts so if you didn’t like women’s football before this World Cup and if you’ve watched it, there is no way you can’t be hooked because some of the games have been fantastic.’
England narrowly booked themselves a place in the quarter-final after a 4-2 penalty shootout victory over Nigeria on Monday following a 0-0 draw.
It was a tense encounter in which the Lionesses were nowhere near their best, but they held their nerve on spot kicks with Euro 2022 hero Chloe Kelly thumping home the winner.
And for Aluko, the performance of Nigeria – who were ranked 40th in the world heading into the tournament – was an example of the good health the women’s game is in, while it was a challenge she believes will only benefit England.
She explained: ‘I was so impressed with the way Nigeria nullified England, tactically they man-marked Lauren James and Keira Walsh out of the game.
‘England didn’t know how to figure it out and I think Nigeria left with so many fans. It says something about where African women’s football is at that three African sides (Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco) got through to the knockout stages.
‘The way Nigeria played throughout. They beat the hosts Australia and they came through the toughest group so it’s a massive win for England in terms of getting past a difficult test.’
Before the anxiety of the penalty shootout, England were dealt a major blow when James – who has lit up the tournament with three goals and three assists – was sent off for violent conduct after stamping on Michelle Alozie.
Aluko was full of praise for Nigeria’s gusty and impressive performance in defeat to England
Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman said the clash was the toughest test of her coaching career
England face Colombia in the quarter-final on Saturday after they beat Jamaica 1-0 on Tuesday
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Chelsea star James – who has since apologised to Alozie – is only 21 and while Aluko was critical of what she did, she insisted it is paramount the nation sticks behind the forward.
‘It was naive, a mistake and clearly it is immature,’ she said. ‘Do I expect a 21-year-old with the world looking at her not to have immature and naive moments though? No. Of course I expect that.
‘I’m 36 and still making mistakes and it’ll be part of her journey. If you look at what she has done in this tournament, she is our future so we’ve got to look after her and protect her.
‘It’s a big lesson on the world’s biggest stage but mistakes help you get better.’
Aluko is speaking to Mail Sport after working on ITV’s coverage of Colombia vs Jamaica with Laura Woods and Karen Carney as the south American side won 1-0 to book their place in the quarter-final against England.
Mail Sport was given a sneak peak behind-the-scenes into the work that goes on to make ITV’s coverage with more than 100 staff diligently working across production, sound, graphics and more, while the impressive Aluko, Woods and Carney were sat in a studio in front of a green screen.
They’ll be back there on Saturday when ITV exclusively show coverage of England’s clash with Colombia and although Los Cafeteros are ranked 25th in the world, Aluko doesn’t believe the game is a foregone conclusion.
She said: ‘From what I saw, England shouldn’t be worried. But the only thing is a lot of the time these teams prefer playing as the underdog and they were evenly matched with Jamaica, if not the favourites.
‘In the group against Germany they were fantastic and won so they prefer to be in that underdog situation when no one is expecting them to win and you can see a different mentality.
‘So, I wouldn’t necessarily go off the Jamaica game and there is a little bit of the unknown there for England heading into it.’
England’s Lauren James was sent off against Nigeria for violent conduct after a reckless stamp
Aluko admitted it was ‘naive’ from the 21-year-old, but said the nation must stick behind her
James has since apologised to Alozie, England fans and her team-mates for the misdemeanour
Mail Sport was given a look behind-the-scenes for ITV’s coverage of Colombia vs Jamaica
Aluko was on duty for the game alongside Karen Carney and renowned presenter Laura Woods
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During her playing career, Aluko became an England legend by scoring 33 goals across 102 caps, while she featured in five major tournaments plus the 2012 Olympics.
Having made her debut at the age of 17, she was part of the England team that came third in the 2015 World Cup, while she was also integral as they reached the final at Euro 2009 before losing to Germany.
But with all that vast experience, what advice would she give right now to the Lionesses as they look to lift the World Cup for the first time in their history?
‘England have shown they can win in different ways and that is really healthy,’ Aluko said.
‘They’re coming up against a type and style of team in Colombia that they wouldn’t have played against before and they have to be ready for that.
‘We’ve played Haiti and Nigeria and these are styles that typically England don’t really play against and maybe moving forward we should have more friendlies against global nations rather than just European teams.
‘They just need to be ready for anything that’s thrown at them and I think they’ll always come through with the quality they have.’
She continued: ‘I’ve always said England could get to the final as when you win the Euros like they did that winning culture and momentum is just part of you.
‘It will now be disappointing if they don’t because they can go all the way. The other team I fancy is Japan. I struggle to see how any team will stop them.
‘They’ve got everything! From ruthless finishing, defensive organisation and tactical flexibility – those two teams are the ones who have really stood out for me.’
For Aluko, covering the World Cup is a pleasure and as someone that has seen so much growth in women’s football since her first major tournament at Euro 2005, she is well-placed to reflect on the ever-changing landscape of the game.
Mail Sport witnessed all the hard work that goes on in producing coverage for a major event
Aluko claimed England are more than good enough to go all the way to the World Cup final
However, she is wary of Japan who have enjoyed a sensational time at the tournament so far
She said: ‘It’s completely shifted and changed. The media attention, conversation, trending topics are all about women’s football.
‘You wouldn’t think there was ever a time when people said “no one watches women’s football”.
‘That argument has died a death because people are watching, millions are. So it’s just great to see and most of all it’s brilliant to see the parity.
‘There’s an assumption sometimes that football only happens in Europe, but around the world whether it’s Africa, Asia, South America or Oceania – women’s football is growing at a rapid pace and it’s really positive.’
ITV1’s live coverage of England’s Women’s World Cup Quarter-Final against Colombia starts at 10.45am on Saturday.
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