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England fails to impress in first look at Women’s World Cup

England fails to impress in first look at Women’s World Cup

It was one of the most pressing questions coming into this Women’s World Cup.

Could England, despite missing four of the 11 starters from last summer’s European Championship triumph – the only trophy, men’s or women’s, the country that invented the sport has won in more than half a century – overcome those absences and compete for soccer’s ultimate prize?

If Saturday’s 1-0 win over Haiti is anything to go by, the answer is probably not.

England vs. Haiti Highlights | 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

In a wildly entertaining match in Brisbane, Australia, the Lionesses rode a first-half penalty kick by Georgia Stanway to claim all three points against a tournament newcomer playing in its very first World Cup game. The win was fully expected. The manner of victory, well, that part was anything but impressive.

Even without the injured trio of Fran Kirby, Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and the retired Ellen White, FIFA’s fourth-ranked squad was supposed to pummel the No. 53 Haitians. The bigger tests for England were supposed to come later in the first round, in matches against Denmark and China, and then in the knockout phase. The group stage was supposed to be nothing more than a formality.

But after watching the Lionesses struggle for long stretches against a plucky, athletic but decidedly inexperienced foe, it’s all but impossible to see England standing on the podium with confetti raining down around them following the Aug. 20 final in Sydney.

England’s Georgia Stanway scores goal vs. Haiti in 29′ | 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

England came into the competition with the bookies’ second-best odds of winning it all, behind the two-time defending United States. But while the title-favorite U.S. was held to a single goal by debutant Vietnam until deep into first half stoppage time in their opening match on Friday, they still ran out as 3-0 winners by the time the final whistle blew.

Saturday marked just the third day of the 2023 World Cup, and already a trend has started to emerge. Billed as the most competitive tourney ever, that’s precisely how it has played out so far.

So while it’s possible that England will rebound from its lackluster opener and go on to make a deep run, it sure doesn’t seem likely following its opening contest. That’s not to take anything away from the Haitians, who deserve a ton of credit for their performance.

Les Grenadières defended their hearts out on Saturday and scared their more decorated opponent on more than one occasion. Haiti fought for every 50-50 ball. The players most certainly didn’t play scared. And they might even have stolen a goal with just a little more patience and quality in England’s end. Even then, Haiti came oh-so-close to netting the equalizer several times after falling behind, their three shots on target forcing a trio of superb saves out of goalkeeper Mary Earps in the second half. Melchie Daëlle Dumornay, just 19, was a revelation for the Haitians throughout.

While England still collected all three points, they really didn’t look dangerous despite a 21-7 shot and 75-25 possession advantage, despite Haitian backstop Kerly Théus making nine saves – some of them spectacular – of her own.

The hard truth for England supporters is that Wiegman’s side had next to no answers without veteran attackers Kirby, Mead and White in its first game, the Lionesses’ only goal coming on a retaken effort from the spot after a silly (and totally avoidable) handball by winger Batcheba Louis.

‘World Cup NOW’ crew discuss Sarina Wiegman’s role in England’s success

In other words, England got lucky. And it’s going to get much harder from here.

“What we want to do, of course, is finish our chances,” Wiegman said afterward. “I hope the next game in open play we can score a goal.”

The Lionesses are capable of that. Winning the World Cup without some of their most experienced and important players? They can still hope for that, too. But based on Saturday’s evidence at least, that particular goal is almost certainly beyond them.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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