The champions of Europe, England, came into the 2023 Women’s World Cup as one of the favourites. Their stock was high, and even despite devastating injuries to star Beth Mead and captain Leah Williamson, the Lionesses were still perennial contenders.
It only took one match for Sarina Wiegman’s squad to leave that pack in the eyes of many. A 1-0 win over Haiti, rendered even narrower than the scoreline due to how the goal was scored – Georgia Stanway retook a penalty, her first stopped, because the goalkeeper was off her line. A fine finish indeed, but one that should’ve added to a lead, or started a string of tallies, rather than the lone goal of the night.
That’s not to say England didn’t come close to extending their lead. Haiti’s backline did give away the ball a lot very close to their box, thus giving Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp their fair share of chances. But on countless occasions, the service to Alessia Russo and others down the middle was amazing, but no one was getting on the end of crosses. It was relatively controversial to start Russo in the first place over one of the WSL’s most consistent scorers in Rachel Daly. She came on in the final stretch of the contest, and everything seemed to click for England a lot more once that substitution was made. Russo was floating out wide and Kelly would become the striker. But Daly offers a straight-up number nine role that seemed to suit England a lot more in the second half; if there were any disputes in the moment as to who would try and head the ball home, there were none when Daly came on.
Russo also didn’t get on the end of many balls too, while Daly was ever-present in the air. Kerly Théus was very good on the day, stopping nine from inside the box (ten in total, via SofaScore), with very quick reaction time and movements, and she hardly made any mistakes, more than making up for some defensive sloppiness early on. That stopped once England started creating chances on their own later in the game (the Lionesses managed more possession, shots, and shots on target in the second half).
“Sometimes, the cross was too close to the goalkeeper, who had a lot of courage too,” Wiegman noted after the match. “Sometimes we had a moment where we might have had the last pass instead of shooting ourselves, little things like that. We were very close to scoring a goal, so I hope the next game in open play we can score a goal.”
Wiegman also spoke of a need to be faster in possession. That might be something a bit lower down on the pecking order for England’s priorities, but playing out of the back on resets or other plays there was a lot of Jess Carter and Millie Bright playing amongst themselves before going out wide. Lucy Bronze did quite well getting stuck into plays in the deepest areas, Kelly very well could’ve had a worse game if she was not in the mix. Bronze was four-for-five on crosses and made two successful dribble attempts, not a bad showing at all.
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As for the Haitians, they were fuelled by the young, sensational Melchie Dumornay. The simple fact is, despite not getting on the scoresheet (Haiti easily could’ve and she would’ve been a driving force behind that) Dumornay proves to be all she’s advertised as and more. Don’t let her centre-forward position while wearing the number six fool you, the 19-year-old is the lifeblood of Haiti’s offence. Sometimes, you can’t help but rattle off stats: five successful dribbles, three key passes (both of those are outrageous) 11 duels won, and was fouled four times.
Haiti, obviously, as with any other team, can’t rely on one player, especially if they’re still a teenager, but Dumornay showed that against the best, she can throw a team on her back. If criticism were to be offered up, you could say that her decision-making might still not be the best, her one shot (at least on target) should be a higher number. Frequently laying the ball off to Roselord Borgella or the handicapped Nerilia Mondesir (she suffered a nasty ankle injury that had her limping for much of the game) didn’t have to become a theme. Yes, the number nine and the captain are athletes who would be able to put the ball in the net but considering Dumornay’s quality, there wouldn’t be grievances if she took it herself.
A thorn in the side for the European champions means she’d do the same against most. Super speedy, innovative, creative, elusive, and great in transition, Dumornay might just be the ultimate attacking player.
Haiti’s resilience, grit, and skill showed that they can be matched up with anybody. They qualified just through the Intercontinental playoffs, and as a troubled nation shouldn’t be anywhere near the Lionesses. However, they defied everything. Some losses are wins, and some wins are losses. You felt that for Haiti and England, respectively, on Saturday.
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