Without captain Leah Williamson and 2022 Ballon d’Or Feminin runner-up Beth Mead due to respective ACL injuries, England manager Sarina Wiegman drafted Jess Carter to play alongside her Chelsea teammate – and the declared fit Millie Bright returned at centre-back. Alessia Russo was the preferred option to partner Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp in the Lionesses’ front-three, ahead of last season’s WSL top scorer, Rachel Daly.
Making their voyage into the unknown of their maiden Women’s World Cup, Haiti boss Nicolas Delépine named ten of the 11 players in his starting XI that surprisingly emerged victorious in their WWC intercontinental play-off final against Chile in February – that included talismanic striker Melchie Dumornay, who scored a historic 98th-minute winner in that game.
ENG: Earps, Bronze, Bright, Carter, Greenwood; Walsh, Stanway, Toone; Russo, Kelly, Hemp
HAI: Théus, Surpris, Petit-Frère, Limage, Louis, Joseph; Jeudy, Pierre-Louis, B Louis, Mondésir; Dumornay, Borgella.
Encountering one another on the pitch for the first-ever time, Haiti began confidently against the defending European Championship winners, and should have broken the deadlock shortly before the quarter-hour mark. After netting a breathtaking 14 goals during the 2023 WWC qualification stage – with only two other players scoring more – you would have put your money down on Roselord Borgella to have at least hit the target. However, the Dijon FCO striker could only drag her effort wide of the right-hand post.
Surprisingly starting the contest on the back foot against the outsiders of Group D, England looked convinced they were about to be handed the opportunity to continue the beyond-belief record of a penalty being awarded at every game (7) at this year’s global tournament so far. However, referee Emikar Caldera had other ideas on her mind, announcing to the stadium that Alessia Russo’s had fouled Tabita Joseph in the build-up, prior to Dayana Pierre-Louis standing on Chloe Kelly’s foot.
However, the Lionesses were then unbelievably awarded a spot-kick seven minutes later after VAR intervened to advise the woman in the middle that Batcheba Louis had inexplicably decided to handle an incoming cross. After witnessing her first attempt from twelve yards spectacularly saved by Kerly Théus, the action-packed opening 30 minutes continued, as Georgia Stanway was handed a second opportunity following the footballing gods’ decision that Haiti’s goalkeeper had committed an act of encroachment. Not willing to let another gilt-edge opportunity go amiss, the spot-kick connoisseur held her nerve to fire into the same corner as the first penalty to hand England a slender but truthfully nervous lead, heading into the half-time interval.
Determined to get back on level terms as soon as possible, Haiti came close to doing precisely that in the opening minutes of the second half as the eye-catching performance of Melchie Dumornay fired a fearsome strike straight at England goalkeeper Mary Earps. Not to be outdone by her positional counterpart, Russo stormed down the other end of the field to force Théus into making two sublime quick-fire saves to keep the scoreline at just a single goal.
With a late goal still on the cards for Haiti, Lionesses’ manager Sarina Wiegman introduced prolific Aston Villa goalscorer Rachel Daly from the dugout for the final quarter-hour in an attempt to try and finally put the match to bed. However, it was a substitute from the opposite bench who nearly found a late equaliser, as Earps did brilliantly to manoeuvre her leg in the way of Roseline Éloissaint’s one-on-one effort.
Although appearing shaky at times, England still managed to register 10 shots on target, as the Lionesses move one step closer to making their first-ever appearance in a WWC final ahead of travelling to Sydney to take on Denmark on Friday. Meanwhile, despite ending up on the losing end, Haiti will surely head into their game against China on the same day in high spirits. However, les Grenadières will need to finally put to bed a demoralising sequence of only registering four victories since their participation at the 1991 CONCACAF Championship to stand any chance of progression into the knockout stages.