PREVIEW: Can Sarina Wiegman guide the Lionesses to glory at the FIFA Women’s World Cup?

We’re just days away from the start of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and as July 20 draws ever closer, it’s time to focus our attention on the Lionesses – a team that will be somewhat unpredictable at this summer’s tournament.

England have never made it to the final of this competition before, but still head to Australia and New Zealand as candidates to take home the elusive trophy following their success at last summer’s EUROs.

But success twelve months ago won’t necessarily translate into triumph now, and resting on their laurels might be England’s downfall if an air of complacency wafts into the Lionesses training camp.

The end of an era

It’s important to acknowledge that this squad is largely different to the side that defeated Germany at Wembley Stadium last summer. Notably, Jill Scott’s retirement has left a sizeable hole to fill in the heart of the England midfield – and Ellen White has also drawn a line under her playing career, opening up a spot in the Lionesses’ front line.

But as two players bow out, a new generation is vying to take their places in the starting lineup. Alessia Russo has cemented herself as Sarina Wiegman’s favoured striker as Chloe Kelly operates in a wider area. Furthermore, the space in midfield is now often occupied by Ella Toone or her Manchester United teammate, Katie Zelem.

The stars of England’s new golden generation are more than capable of filling the void left by retired players, but just a year on from that stunning victory at Wembley, it’ll be interesting to see how the youngsters cope with the pressure of competing on the world’s greatest stage – and away from the home comforts they were blessed with last summer.

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Daly’s positioning and Russo’s involvement

Alessia Russo is likely to face competition for that starting striker spot though, with Rachel Daly making a strong case for herself throughout the season. Despite having started every game at the EUROs as a left-back, Carla Ward has entrusted Daly as her number nine this season – and it’s paid dividends for Aston Villa, as she finished as the WSL’s leading goalscorer.

When she’s had such an impactful year leading the line, moving Daly back to defence would surely be a huge mistake. With Jess Carter and Alex Greenwood, England have two high-quality left-backs capable of progressing play on the flanks – allowing Daly to keep her spot in the front three.

Yet it’s not as simple as allowing Daly to start as England’s preferred striker, as that then prompts questions around Alessia Russo’s involvement. With the forward having recently completed a move to Arsenal, she’ll be desperate to impress this summer – as she needs to prove why Jonas Eidevall should utilise her over the likes of Stina Blackstenius, Viv Miedema and Beth Mead.

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Injuries impacting squad selection

In addition to the two aforementioned retirees, England will be without three key players through injury. Sarina Wiegman will have to navigate this tournament without her trusted captain, Leah Williamson, after the Arsenal stalwart ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament against Manchester United earlier this season.

Williamson’s tenure as the captain of the national team has been incredibly successful, since taking the armband on a permanent basis in April 2022. The Lionesses have lifted three trophies since she took over from Steph Houghton – winning the EUROs, the Arnold Clark Cup and the inaugural Women’s Finalissima.

But it is not just Williamson that will be absent from this summer’s action – her Arsenal teammate, Beth Mead, has also had to withdraw after suffering the same anterior cruciate ligament injury. The forward is further along in her rehabilitation, having sustained her tear in November 2022, but narrowly missed out on a return to full fitness ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Additionally, Fran Kirby will be missing from the Lionesses squad as they head down under. Yet another knee injury is to blame, although Kirby’s exact condition has never been confirmed. Having picked up the injury in February, the Chelsea star issued a statement in May to advise that she would require surgery, and therefore not be eligible for World Cup selection.

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Poor finishing against Portugal

Some fans have, understandably, voiced their concerns after a disappointing goalless draw against Portugal. While the result certainly wasn’t what the home faithful desired, there were plenty of positives to take from the match – including Lucy Bronze and Lauren James as a duo on the right flank.

But England’s downfall was their finishing. Sarina Wiegman’s side managed twenty-three shots, but only eight of those were on target – and none found the back of the net. While England have been blessed with a relatively easy group, they’ll face tougher opposition in the knockout rounds and the Lionesses must learn to become ruthless in front of goal if they’re to stand any chance of reaching the latter stages of the tournament.

Can Wiegman work wonders again?

While England have failed to reach the FIFA Women’s World Cup final before, they’ve now got a not-so-secret weapon – Sarina Wiegman. The Dutchwoman has experienced reaching the final before, as she guided her home country to a dramatic showdown against the United States four years ago.

While the Oranjeleeuwinnen were forced to settle for silver on that occasion, it’s still an improvement on England’s best finish. As the Lionesses look to take home the trophy this time around, Wiegman’s experience will undoubtedly play a key role in managing players’ mentality throughout the emotionally draining tournament.

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The potential opponents

As they’ve been allocated a space in Group D, England will face Denmark, China and Haiti as they look to progress from the group stages. Denmark return to the FIFA Women’s World Cup after a lengthy absence, having last appeared in the 2007 edition of the competition – but they’ll be an interesting team to face as Lars Søndergaard’s side appear to have discovered a winning formula in recent months.

The rød-hvide boast some of Europe’s greatest talents, with Pernille Harder arguably the standout name for Denmark. Having left Chelsea for Bayern Munich at the conclusion of the 2022/23 season, this will be one final chance for the Blues to watch the forward in action against her former teammates before she settles on German soil.

China have become somewhat of a constant figure at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, with their only absence coming in 2011. China’s most successful campaign came in 1999, as they secured the silver medals – but they frequently reach the final four and will be looking to do the same once again.

Haiti are the minnows of the group, and are likely to find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table for the duration of the tournament. Les Grenadières participated in the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games, but lost all three of their fixtures – so I find it hard to envisage a successful World Cup campaign against tougher opposition.

If England are able to progress from their group, they’ll face an opponent from Group B on August 7 in the round-of-sixteen. Group B is rather difficult to predict, but they’ll face Australia, Canada, Nigeria or the Republic of Ireland should they qualify for the knockouts.

If you’d like more information on England’s potential opponents, we’ve compiled a handy comprehensive guide to every team competing in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – you can read that by clicking this link.

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FromTheSpot will be bringing you coverage of every game throughout the FIFA Women’s World Cup, including previews and detailed reports. We’ll cover games in the buildup to the tournament too, so you can get a feel for the potential favourites ahead of action getting underway in Australia and New Zealand.

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