PREVIEW: England’s World Cup Hopes

With less than 100 days until the FIFA Women’s World Cup gets underway, Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses will now begin to prepare for football’s most important tournament. Confidence around the camp is likely to be high as the side look to build on last summer’s EURO success, which was also England’s first major trophy in 56 years.

England’s Recent Fixtures

Since that now infamous day under the Wembley arch, the Lionesses have gone on to achieve greatness once again – winning two further games at the National Stadium, including a 2-1 win over the USA in October. Wiegman’s side returned to the capital city in April though, facing Brazil in the first ever Women’s Finalissima – in which the Lionesses overcame their South American opponents in the penalty shootout to lift their second piece of silverware in less than a year.

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I had the pleasure of speaking to Chloe Kelly after the Finalissima, and asked her about the importance of playing at Wembley in front of huge crowds. The Lionesses’ two major trophies have both been won under the arch, and while they won’t be able to continue that trend this summer, the Manchester City forward’s response was straightforward – ‘It’s brilliant playing in front of our home fans. They’re always the extra player for us, and yeah I love playing here at Wembley in front of them.’ Wiegman’s side will need to get used to playing without eighty-thousand fans cheering them on though, as England’s travelling contingent in the summer will be diminutive in comparison.

Five days on from that memorable Finalissima win, the Lionesses travelled across London to Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium, where they faced Australia in an Alzheimer’s Society International fixture. That game didn’t go to plan though, as the Lionesses fell to their first defeat under Sarina Wiegman – recording a 2-0 loss due to goals from Sam Kerr and Charlotte Grant. The Matildas were impressive in the midfield, effectively neutralising the threat posed by Keira Walsh and allowing Kerr to break through on the counterattack.

England’s Star Players

The Finalissima bore plenty of similarities to the EURO final, as Ella Toone opened the scoring in both games before Chloe Kelly won the game – her strike deep in extra-time was enough to defeat Germany, before she scored the match-winning penalty against Brazil. Sarina Wiegman will feel reassured, knowing that she has plenty of ‘big-game’ players available within the squad.

Looking elsewhere in the squad, Leah Williamson will be crucial to England’s potential summer success. The Arsenal star has been the nation’s captain for just over a year, and has lifted four trophies in that time. Williamson is more than capable in both defensive and midfield roles, and she has been deployed in both positions throughout her time in North London – notably in the club’s UEFA Women’s Champions League victory over Bayern Munich, when she started the game in defence before moving into midfield after Kim Little was forced off through injury. 93% of her passes were completed during the Finalissima, and she recovered the ball sixteen times throughout the match. The England skipper was less impressive during the game against Australia and was at fault for the opener, if not both goals – but it’s a rare poor showing from the Arsenal star who is usually a brick wall at the back. If Williamson can remain fit, she’ll be instrumental to Sarina Wiegman’s side.

Another key player for the Lionesses is Lucy Bronze. The right-back currently plays for Barcelona, and has impressed there since making the move from Manchester City after her contract expired last year. Bronze carries out her defensive duties well, but also thrives moving forward and this was demonstrated throughout the Finalissima. In that game, Bronze managed to complete 87% of her attempted passes – one of which was the assist for Ella Toone’s opening goal.

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The Lionesses are likely to be without Arsenal’s Beth Mead though, as the forward is currently recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Mead picked up the Golden Boot at last summer’s tournament, but injuring her knee in November has well and truly set back her plans of ripping apart the opposition in the Southern Hemisphere.

Speaking to the press, Wiegman stated that the ‘World Cup is actually too early’ for Mead – meaning she is ‘not in our plans now’. However, the Dutchwoman added that ‘if a miracle happens and she goes so fast, then we will reconsider it – but at this moment I don’t expect that.

England are ‘such a good team’

A win against Pia Sundhage’s Brazil gave the Lionesses one of their final chances to prepare for the World Cup against quality opposition. Sundhage herself was full of praise for England, adding that her young Brazilian side have never played against ‘such a good team as England’. Brazil were dominated in the first half, but Sundhage’s half-time tactical changes allowed the Seleção chance to grow back into the game – eventually taking England to a penalty shootout.

After their loss, Sundhage was extremely open with the press about the changes she made during the interval. She spoke about how the Brazil coaching staff collectively felt that when they ‘won the ball, we gave it away way too easily… so what happened in the second half was rather than having three in the midfield, we had four in the midfield. That makes you cover up for each other in different ways. We kept the ball better, and as soon as you keep the ball a little bit longer, the opponents start dropping off.

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Sundhage was also asked for her assessment of the Lionesses under Wiegman – and her thoughts on their chances at the upcoming World Cup. ‘If you look at favourites [to win the World Cup], you have the US, you have England, you have Sweden and I would say Germany as well,’ she stated. ‘With the team Sarina has built, it’s very interesting and she’s done a phenomenal job. She’s the best coach in the world.

England’s World Cup Group

England have been placed in Group D for the upcoming tournament, meaning they’ll face Haiti, Denmark and China in their opening three matches. Despite the tournament taking place in Australia and New Zealand, all of the Lionesses’ fixtures are set to take place at a reasonable time – the earliest game will kick off at 8:30am UK time.

Haiti qualified for the World Cup through the playoffs, beating Senegal 4-0 in the semifinal before toppling Chile to cement their place at the tournament. The Haitian Women’s Football Team is ranked 53rd in the world by FIFA, representing their highest ever position in the rankings. While they’re certainly not favourites to progress from the group, they could be a thorn in England’s side as the Lionesses look to top the group to ensure a more favourable round-of-16 encounter. This will be England’s opening game at the tournament, taking place on July 22. Haiti lost to Nigeria during the most recent international break, though they managed to defeat Moldova 3-1.

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Denmark currently sit 15th in the FIFA World Rankings – and they’ll pose much more of a challenge to Sarina Wiegman’s side when they face off in Sydney on July 28. The Danes topped their five-team qualification group after Russia were disqualified for political reasons, winning all eight games while only conceding two goals. They’re certainly capable of defending well – with both Rikke Sevecke and Katrine Veje playing together for Everton in the Women’s Super League, their chemistry will be a great advantage for the Scandinavian side. Impressively, Denmark managed to beat Sweden 1-0 during the latest international break – the Swedes currently sit fourth in the World Rankings!

Picking up a win against Sweden is no mean feat, as the side are widely regarded as one of England’s biggest threats at the tournament – as Pia Sundhage hinted at earlier in this article. Despite being the Brazilian head coach, Sundhage herself is a Swedish national, so there might be a little bit of an unconscious bias in her answer! The blågult’s form has been tumultuous over the last year or so though, as they fell to a 4-0 defeat by England in the EUROs. Australia also toppled Sweden by the same scoreline in November – so perhaps they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

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England’s final group stage game will be played in Adelaide on August 1, and they’ll face their highest-ranked opponents – China. The Asian outfit currently sit thirteenth in FIFA’s World Rankings, and this game is likely to decide which team progresses as group winners. They’ve not had the most enjoyable international break though, as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Switzerland before losing 3-0 to Spain.

Who are the favourites?

We’ve already talked about Sweden, but let’s take a look at some of the other teams that Pia Sundhage spoke about as potential challengers for silverware this summer. She was quick to mention the United States – and with good reason. With the exception of Lindsey Horan, the entire squad play their club football within the US. The North American side have lifted the last two Women’s World Cups in 2015 and 2019, and they’ll have their eyes set on three consecutive trophies. That would bring their total to a very respectable five, having also won the competition in 1991 and 1999. England did defeat the US at Wembley in October, but they’ve picked up wins against Germany, Canada and Brazil since – and all three of those nations sit within the top ten ranked national teams according to FIFA’s latest rankings.

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Pia Sundhage also mentioned Germany among the favourites – and her Brazil side travelled to Nuremberg to face the DFB-Frauenteam on April 11. Brazil ran out 2-1 winners despite a late goal from Jule Brand – and it’s fair to say that the Germans have been inconsistent against high-quality opposition recently. They won against the US in November, but lost to the same side three days later – and have since been held to a 0-0 draw against Sweden. They did manage to find a way past the Netherlands though, picking up a 1-0 win on April 7. It’s important to note that Germany faced England in the final of last summer’s EUROs, and took the Lionesses to extra-time after Lina Magull’s 79th-minute strike levelled the game.

England’s Best Eleven

With kickoff in the Southern Hemisphere edging ever closer, I thought I should pick out my preferred starting eleven for the Lionesses. Sarina Wiegman famously named the same starting lineup for every game at the EUROs, and I wouldn’t be surprised to do the same this summer – if injuries allow her to do that, of course.


Mary Earps is arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the women’s game – and England’s best option by a country mile. The shot-stopper plays for Manchester United, and has been instrumental to the club’s push for their first-ever Women’s Super League title. This season, she’s kept eleven clean sheets from 17 league games – conceding just nine goals in 1530 minutes of football. At United, she is trusted to play the ball out from the back, completing 617 of 705 attempted passes this season.


Jess Carter gets the nod at left-back for me, as the Chelsea star has seemingly earned the trust of Sarina Wiegman. Her full-backs tend to get up the pitch quite often, and Jess Carter has bagged two goals this season from six shots – not bad for a defender! Her passing accuracy sits around the 82% percent mark if we exclude passes over thirty yards. The left-back spot was a tough one to call, and I could have easily picked Rachel Daly as she started in this position last summer – but the Villa star seems to be preferred further up the field nowadays.

Alex Greenwood makes the starting eleven, thanks largely due to her impressive passing accuracy. She is clearly trusted to make decisions on the ball under Gareth Taylor at Manchester City, and her impressive passes completed rate reflects that – with over 90% of her passes under 30 yards being completed successfully! She has also created an average of 0.33 goals per 90 in the WSL this season, while winning 13 of her 16 attempted tackles. However, the City defender withdrew from Wiegman’s squad after the Finalissima due to injury concerns – but while we wait for an update, we’ll assume she’ll recover in time for the World Cup. Millie Bright could also be considered in place of Greenwood, though the Chelsea defender is currently ruled out through injury. While we await an update on her condition, we’ve not included her in the squad.

Leah Williamson is a no-brainer, and she’s clearly trusted by Sarina Wiegman. Her defensive acumen cannot be understated. The captain doesn’t boast the most impressive passing accuracy at just 79.7% in the WSL this season – but if we single out passes between 15 and 30 yards, she completes 90.9% of those! Further up the field, the Arsenal defender has generated 0.45 goal-creating actions per 90 throughout this league campaign – and that makes for very impressive reading as a centre-back. As I’ve already mentioned, Williamson is more than capable of playing in midfield should she be required to do so – and that versatility is crucial in tournaments such as the World Cup.

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On the right side of defence, I’ve opted for Lucy Bronze. The Barcelona star has scored three goals in 19 league appearances for the Catalan club this campaign, and she’s topped that off with a further two assists. Her overall passing accuracy sits at 80.5% – but that’s hauled down due to her 54.1% success rate when passing over a distance longer than thirty yards. The right-back creates 0.42 goal-creating actions per 90, and that’s a very handy attribute to have in Sarina Wiegman’s system.


Moving into midfield, I’d be stupid not to pick Georgia Stanway. The defensive midfielder now plays for Bayern Munich, and she’s bagged five goals and three assists so far this season in 16 league appearances. Her passing accuracy sits at a respectable 81.7%, and that’s led to 0.67 goal-creating chances per 90. She boasts a 57.6% success rate when taking on the opposition in one-v-one situations, and 1448 progressive carries in the Frauen Bundesliga this season shows that she is always looking to move the ball forwards.

Keira Walsh is a must-have in any England squad. The midfielder broke the record transfer fee for a female footballer when she left Manchester City for Barcelona last year – and she’s lived up to every penny of her price tag since. This season, Walsh has a pass completion rate of 89%, which looks even more impressive when coupled with her 86 progressive passes. The 26-year-old is one of the first names on any team sheet, and she’ll undoubtedly be heralded as a hero this summer should England go on to lift the trophy.

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Ella Toone is the sole representative of the Women’s Super League in this midfield trio, and she’s set the league on fire this season – with a combined eleven goals and assists from 17 league games. The 23-year-old is good at working her way into promising attacking positions, and that’s resulted in an average 0.78 shots on target per 90. Her eight assists this season deserve credit, as the Manchester United star has more than doubled her expected assists figure of 3.5! Toone also turns up on big occasions, netting the opening goal in both the EURO final and the Finalissima.


Lauren Hemp signed for Manchester City in 2018, and she’s become part of the furniture at the Academy Stadium in the years since. This season, the winger has bagged 7 goal contributions in 15 games to bring her average goal contributions per 90 to a respectable 0.49. Her passing accuracy does leave something to be desired though, sitting at just 68.1% in the WSL this season and 70.97% in the Finalissima. However, her crossing is arguably her weakest attribute – with all nine of her attempted crosses against Brazil failing to find the intended target. She picked up a facial injury in that game, and she was forced off against Australia as that seemed to flare up. Regardless, her impressive work rate means there’s still a place for the forward in my starting eleven.

Alessia Russo leads the line in my preferred starting eleven, with the Manchester United forward certainly knowing how to find the back of the net. Her sensational backheeled goal last summer demonstrated her unbelievable composure in front of goal, and she’s proven that her goalscoring exploits aren’t just a one-off having bagged eight league goals in the WSL so far this season. Russo averages 4.03 shots per 90, and 44.2% of those are on target. She has exceeded her expected goals tally of 5.1 – and once she’s bagged one, she’s unstoppable – as demonstrated by her hat-trick against Leicester City. Chloe Kelly was a close contender for the starting striker spot, but I prefer her impact as a super sub to devastate tiring defences late on in the game.

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Lauren James is the final player in this starting XI and with good reason. The youngster – who is also Reece James’ sister – has flourished since her move to Chelsea from Manchester United, and she’s widely regarded as one of the best female footballing prospects. James averages 0.61 goal contributions per 90 minutes in the WSL this season, which is coincidentally the same figure as her average shots on target per 90. She has notched up 34 progressive carries so far this season, taking the ball into the final third on 20 occasions. Her dribbling and ball control is phenomenal, which allows Sarina Wiegman’s side more time on the ball.

XI: Earps; Carter, Greenwood, Williamson, Bronze; Stanway, Walsh, Toone; Hemp, Russo, James

You may have noticed that my starting lineup is identical to that deployed by Sarina Wiegman for the Finalissima – and that’s for good reason. While the second-half performance wasn’t the most impressive, this group of players feels like the best option for this summer’s tournament given the injuries to Beth Mead and Millie Bright to name just a few.

Is Football Coming Home?

The big question. This is the one you’ve all been waiting for – and in my opinion, yes it is. The Lionesses will be buoyed by their recent successes, and with such great leadership from Sarina Wiegman and Leah Williamson, the World Cup could well be heading back to England for the first time since 1966. That being said, there’s always the possibility of injuries disrupting the squad between now and the summer – so perhaps we’ll have to revisit this nearer the time!

All player stats are courtesy of, and are correct as of 11th April 2023.