In the opening match of the Women’s World Cup, England emerged victorious with a 1-0 win against Haiti. Although their performance was not outstanding, the Lionesses managed to get the job done and secure the much-needed three points.
Despite their status as European champions, England appeared lacklustre and wasteful in their narrow victory. They struggled to convert the chances they created and displayed occasional sloppiness in defense.
However, Haiti, ranked 49 places below England, proved their worth as one of the top 32 teams in the world. Their fearless performance tested Sarina Wiegman’s side throughout the match.
The decisive goal came from a penalty converted by Georgia Stanway, giving England the crucial three points. This victory marks only the third time in six World Cup appearances that England has won their opening match.
Reflecting on the match, Stanway stated, “It’s so important to win your first game in a tournament… We’re kind of happy to just get over the line.” She also acknowledged Haiti’s strong performance, saying, “They challenged us in areas that we probably didn’t expect.”
Goalkeeper Mary Earps played a vital role in England’s victory, making crucial saves to deny Haiti’s attempts at goal. Despite the win, Earps emphasized the need for self-reflection and improvement, stating, “[The win] puts us in a good place, but for sure there’s plenty we need to review and reflect on because we have set ourselves a higher standard than that.”
Rusty Start for England
Several factors contributed to England’s underwhelming performance. A lengthy build-up to the tournament, uncertainties in the best starting XI, and injuries to key players all played a role. These challenges were evident in England’s lack of sharpness and cohesion on the field.
Alessia Russo, chosen ahead of Rachel Daly in the attacking role, put in a tireless effort but often found herself isolated. The return of captain Millie Bright, who had not played since March due to knee surgery, also led to some rustiness in her performance.
England’s possession was sloppy, allowing Haiti to exploit counter-attacking opportunities with their pacey attackers. Former England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley expressed disappointment in England’s performance, noting their poor possession and vulnerability to being caught in transition.
Despite these challenges, England introduced substitutes Lauren James and Rachel Daly in the second half, creating more opportunities to extend their lead. However, Haiti grew in confidence and tested England’s defense.
The defensive line of Lucy Bronze, Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood, and Jess Carter, who haven’t played together often, showed signs of needing more time to establish better coordination.
Predictability in Attack
Although England recorded their highest number of shots on target in a World Cup match against Haiti with 11 attempts, they have now gone 337 minutes without scoring in open play. Eniola Aluko, a former England forward, noted the predictability of England’s attacking play, which heavily relied on crosses from wingers Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly.
Aluko suggested that Rachel Daly, known for her strength in the air, could have been a better choice in the attacking role to vary England’s attacking approach. She also highlighted the need for more creativity in the number 10 position, suggesting players like Lauren James, who offer more movement and interchangeability, could bring a fresh dimension to England’s play.
In the second half, Sarina Wiegman introduced substitutes James and Daly, which led to increased attacking opportunities. However, Haiti also grew in confidence and posed a threat to England’s defense. The defensive line, consisting of Lucy Bronze, Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood, and Jess Carter, showed signs of needing more time to gel.
Room for Improvement
Despite the concerns raised by their performance, England’s track record under Sarina Wiegman remains impressive, with only one loss in 33 matches. It is essential to note that they had a slow start to the Euro 2022 tournament as well but eventually went on to win the competition convincingly.
Analysts highlight the importance of building momentum in tournament football and accumulating points. Despite their lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, there are positives to take from England’s performance, as emphasized by former England midfielder Karen Carney. She states, “There are definitely some positives to take from today.”
Looking ahead to their second group game against Denmark, Sarina Wiegman acknowledges England’s dry spell in front of goal and the need for improvement. She highlights the importance of better connections and timing in their attacking play, emphasizing the team’s determination to continue working on these aspects.