TALKING POINTS: England v Haiti (1-0)

With the Lionesses keen to build on their stunning success at last year’s European Championships, hopes were high ahead of England’s 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup opener. Haiti would be their opponents as thousands of fans descended on the streets of Brisbane, with football fever palpable around the city nestled on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.

Les Grenadières would be making their debut at the tournament, swinging the pre-match predictions further in England’s favour as Nicolas Delépine’s side have never competed on the global stage before. Yet as we’ve seen so many times before, a lack of experience isn’t always a negative – and Haiti proved that they’re at this tournament on merit, thriving with low expectations on their shoulders.

Of course, England did eventually prevail against Haiti – with the sole goal coming courtesy of Georgia Stanway from the penalty spot. A blatant handball within the penalty area saw the Bayern Munich midfielder’s initial effort saved well by Kerly Théus, though the ‘keeper was judged to have left her line before Stanway struck the ball. On the second time of asking, Stanway’s strike was unsaveable.

But while the Lionesses walk away from the Brisbane Stadium with three points, Sarina Wiegman’s side put out a less than impressive performance – with Haiti outclassing them for large parts of the game. What really went wrong for England?

England really miss Leah Williamson

While Leah Williamson’s absence will be attributed to England’s defensive frailties as of late, the skipper’s spell on the sidelines has certainly affected the Lionesses’ attacking output too. From the heart of the defence, Williamson excelled at driving the ball into midfield – and in doing so, she drew out the opposition, creating space for the likes of Keira Walsh to truly kickstart an attack.

That aspect of England’s game was missing against Haiti. With no centre backs capable of performing a similar role, the Haitian midfield were fixed firmly on Walsh – and with the key player in England’s engine room marked out for the majority of the game, the team simply didn’t tick.

But Williamson’s absence was visible in the defensive structure too. With Millie Bright returning from injury to captain the side, the back four appeared to play a somewhat different role with rather contrasting player characteristics. Put simply, Bright lacks the required pace to be a straight swap for Williamson and England were ever so nearly exploited because of it – with Mary Earps the hero on numerous occasions.

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Sarina Wiegman learnt nothing from preparation friendlies

Sarina Wiegman is renowned for being stubborn in her ways, starting the same eleven players in every fixture at EURO 2022. That’s not been possible this summer due to injuries and retirements, but the Dutchwoman is seemingly insistent on maintaining the same tactics and utilising the same personnel – even when it is clearly evident that it’s not effective.

England have failed to score a goal in open play since the 23rd minute of the Finalissima win over Brazil. That was on April 6, and the Lionesses have played more than 450 minutes since then. It’s clear that something needs to change, else England could become victims of their own success. Defeat to Australia on April 11 is identifiable as the turning point for England’s form, and the squad have never recovered from the shock defeat in West London.

Wiegman’s reliance on Alessia Russo as the starting striker in this lineup is bordering on incredulous. Of course, Arsenal’s latest signing is desperate to make an impression as she looks to nail down her spot in Jonas Eidevall’s side ahead of the new season – but her personal needs shouldn’t take preference over the success of the national team. Rachel Daly and Beth England have both had more impressive returns for their clubs in the buildup to this summer’s tournament, yet find themselves struggling for game time in a team that continues to experience a worrying goal drought.

Haiti deserve credit

It’s all well and good focusing on England’s misfortunes, but Haiti deserve credit for an excellent performance on their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut. Melchie Dumornay in particular was a constant threat to the England defence, and has certainly proven her worth as she prepares to link up with her new teammates at Olympique Lyonnais after the tournament. Furthermore, Théus was incredible between the sticks – though her encroachment offence will undoubtedly overshadow her otherwise faultless performance.