England began their bid for a first Women’s World Cup title with a 1-0 victory against Haiti in Group D — but this was not the performance expected of a team with ambitions to go all the way to the final.

The Lionesses, whose build-up to the tournament has been disrupted by a row over bonuses, could have been behind in the first half if debutants Haiti had been able to finish one of their presentable chances.

England made the breakthrough from the penalty spot, though only at the second attempt. Batcheba Louis was penalised for handball and Georgia Stanway stepped up but her attempt was superbly saved by Kerly Theus. Unfortunately for the Haitian goalkeeper, she was correctly adjudged to have been off her line and so Stanway was afforded the chance to retake. This time she made no mistake.

For England, it was enough to mean they start with a win. But it was a result that probably provided more questions than answers.



Frustrated Lionesses and a shocked FA: The row threatening England’s World Cup campaign

England’s goalscoring problems persist

The debate about whether Rachel Daly or Alessia Russo should start as England’s No 9 rumbled on right through until kick-off. The announcement that Russo would be in the XI caused a bit of a stir given the lack of form she’s had and Daly’s phenomenal Golden Boot-winning Women’s Super League campaign, but it wasn’t surprising given England looked better and more versatile going forward with Russo on the pitch.

She looked sharp and physical from the first minute but the first chance she had didn’t trouble Haiti goalkeeper Theus. A half-volley in the second half forced a better save from the goalkeeper. Russo didn’t lack desire or intent, especially when she went in hard on Theus minutes later for a headed opportunity.

This game felt like a perfect opportunity for her to find some much-needed rhythm early in this World Cup and it wasn’t necessarily a poor performance — her movement, hold-up play and positioning was as dangerous as ever, but it was still that finishing that was escaping her and this was another match in which England failed to score from open play, taking that run to 337 minutes.

Flo Lloyd-Hughes

Lionesses saved by a penalty

Of the eight World Cup games so far in this tournament, each one has had a penalty. England could have had two in the first half alone.

VAR asked the on-field referee to go to the monitor after Dayana Pierre-Louis fouled Chloe Kelly in the box with a nasty studs-up challenge, sliding down Kelly’s shin. ​​If you isolate that incident, it would have been a penalty. But in the lead-up to the challenge Russo was adjudged to have fouled Tabita Joseph and so the penalty was not given. Pierre-Louis was shown a yellow card and ultimately it was the right decision.

(Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)

But minutes later England were awarded a clear penalty after Louis raised both arms and her fingertips brushed the incoming cross, aimed for Lucy Bronze. England’s nominated penalty taker Stanway stepped up and went for her usual technique, using power to get past the goalkeeper, but it was at the perfect height for Theus, who palmed the ball away. But VAR revealed the Haiti No 1 had come off her line too early and the penalty was retaken. On the second attempt, Stanway went the same way but struck the ball much lower and at a more acute angle. The England midfielder showed confidence and composure to get England off the mark.

Charlotte Harpur

Bright rusty on first start for four months

Millie Bright has not played a competitive game since March 22. She hobbled off with a knee injury 44 minutes into Chelsea’s 1-0 away win against Lyon and only returned to full training when she touched down in Australia. That means England’s back four of Lucy Bronze, Bright, Jess Carter and Alex Greenwood have not trained with each other regularly, let alone played together.

Bright is understandably rusty having been out for four months. The England captain gave away the ball with her first pass, she was eager to intercept balls but was then caught out of position as Haiti broke on the counter attack, and her usually pinpoint diagonal balls were wayward.

(Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)

There was debate about who would play at centre-back alongside Bright. Manager Sarina Wiegman opted for Carter in the middle with Greenwood at left-back, as they did for the pre-tournament 0-0 friendly against Portugal. Haiti got in behind Carter and Bright, club team-mates at Chelsea, several times. It made England seem less than secure at the back but the pair managed to maintain more control in the second period. As for Greenwood, a natural left-footer, her deliveries from crosses and set pieces were a valuable asset.

Other teams looking at this performance will try to exploit England’s backline, especially with the absence of Leah Williamson.

Charlotte Harpur

Dumornay dazzles for impressive Haiti

Melchie Dumornay already had people talking in the lead-up to this tournament after she pretty much single-handedly secured Haiti’s spot at the World Cup, scoring two brilliant goals in a play-off against Chile. She also secured a big move to eight-time Women’s Champions League winners Lyon after an impressive 2022-23 season with Reims, where she scored 11 goals and grabbed five assists.

The fearless 19-year-old is a born match-winner with impressive skill and finishing. Against England she showed exactly why everyone is talking about her. She covered an unbelievable amount of ground on the pitch, wanted to push forward at every opportunity and even nearly scored. Her bullet shot from the edge of the box in the second half was just about punched away by Mary Earps. Dumornay was one of The Athletic’s ones to watch in The Radar published before this tournament and she proved just why with a dynamic and inspiring show against England.



The Radar - The Athletic’s 2023 Women’s World Cup scouting guide

Flo Lloyd-Hughes

A new approach to substitutes

Wiegman has had to approach substitutes in a very different way in the lead-up to this World Cup. At last summer’s Euros, her substitute routine ran like clockwork, with the 60-minute mark signalling a go-to rotation of Kelly, Russo and Ella Toone coming on. This time, all three of those players are starting and there are different tools to look to on the bench. That trio looked like they had run out of ideas at times in Brisbane and the game-changing roles they had the freedom of playing in the home Euros have completely shifted. Now they have to deliver as starters and work hard in frustrating moments for England.

Wiegman’s first change still came on the hour but it was Lauren James on for Lauren Hemp. The Chelsea attacker slotted into Hemp’s position out wide and it instantly brought a chance for England. She not only became a much-needed ball carrier but her vision and passing accuracy opened up space for others to run into and allowed England to switch the play more quickly.

Daly entered the pitch in the 75th minute, replacing Russo, and that forced England to play less to feet and instead hit Daly as more of a target. The switch caused problems for Haiti as Daly had two headed chances in quick successions but she couldn’t guide either into the back of the net.

Flo Lloyd-Hughes

A slow start — but we’ve been here before

In their opening Euros game against Austria at Manchester United’s Old Trafford a year ago, in front of a then-record crowd of 68,871 fans for the competition, it was a cagey affair. England won 1-0. That was an organised but nervous performance.

Against Haiti, England were eager in their efforts, producing a gutsy performance but the first half was chaotic. The game was very open, which suited Haiti. There was too much turnover and England needed more control.

The most important thing for the Lionesses was three points on the board. They now need to build into the tournament and gradually gather momentum as a team. That will take time. They have only played three games in four months and now have three games in 10 days.

Charlotte Harpur

(Top photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)