Did England beat Nigeria today? Outplayed, outclassed but somehow, somehow, not out. Lauren James’s sending‑off in the 85th minute for stepping on Michelle Alozie as her opponent lay on the ground was symptomatic of a frustrated England, who scraped past a tactically superior Nigeria on penalties to progress to the World Cup quarter-finals. Nigeria – ranked 40th in the world, 36 places below England – looked like they would claim the latest big scalp and knock out the European champions after the eliminations of Brazil, Canada, Germany, and the USA. But after Georgia Stanway’s missed penalty in the shootout, England scored four as Nigeria floundered, missing their first two spot-kicks to allow the substitute Chloe Kelly to thunder in the winner. Mouths were agape on the announcement of England’s starting lineup, the return of Keira Walsh appearing miraculous 10 days after she left the pitch on a stretcher in agony. Walsh’s World Cup obituaries were written and despite confirmation that she had not sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury, hopes of a return in the tournament were low. It had people wondering quietly whether there was room for Barcelona’s Champions League winner – not because she is any less important than she was, but because the collective that cracked China, winning 6-1 in a new formation, was so cohesive. Here England stuck with a back three and Katie Zelem returned to the bench. Nigeria posed a very different threat, their transitional game promising the first real test of England’s backline and their defensive organization stifling and frustrating. They had done their homework and were well organized. Halimatu Ayinde was exceptional in her marking of James, who had scored twice and provided three assists as she ran the show against China. Ayinde stalked her every move, she dominated her. James, able to dribble and trick her way out of the smallest of spaces, could not keep the ball, such was the speed with which Ayinde snapped it away. It gnawed at James, her irritation evident in the occasional desperate burst free. A few minutes later, Nigeria threatened again, Alex Greenwood putting her head on the line to make a clearance that fell to Ashleigh Plumptre, who fired an impressive strike off the underside of the bar before forcing a save from Mary Earps moments later.