This was not the decisive victory that England had wished for. It wasn’t the powerful performance that many expected.
It was a narrow, tense and hard-fought win over a Haitian side 49 places behind them. But it was a win and that’s what matters.
Opening games of the World Cup, at least for England, rarely produce big results. It was a familiar story back in 2019 when Phil Neville’s team just beat Scotland 2-1.
It didn’t help that the Lionesses went into this game without a goal after three games.
Haiti coach Nicolas Delepine had hinted they had “a problem with the finish” and when Georgia Stanway’s 28th-minute penalty was saved by his 1.75m goalkeeper Kerly Theus, there were concerns he might have a point.
Georgia Stanway (left) scored the only goal in England’s 1-0 win over Haiti on Saturday
The England No. 8 stepped on the spot – after missing her first try before the referee ordered a replay – and put the ball in goal
It was an unconvincing win for the Lionesses, who came close to beating Haiti
That result put England at the top of Group D ahead of the later China-Denmark clash
Luckily for England and Stanway, Theus had turned away from her line and the penalty was taken again – with the midfielder converting on the second try. England just managed to get through the second half.
ENGLAND VS HAITI MATCH FACTS
England (4-3-3): Earps, Bronze, Bright, Carter, Greenwood, Walsh, Stanway, Kelly, Toone, Hemp (James 61), Russo (Daly 76)
Unused subs: Roebuck, Hampton, Charles, Nobbs, Wubben-Moy, Morgan, Coombs, England, Zelem, Robinson
Booked: Stanway, hemp
Goals: Standard 29
Manager: Sarina Wiegman
Haiti (4-3-3): Theus, Petit-Frere, Limage (Mathurin 31), Joseph, Louis (D Joseph 90+2), Jeudy, D. Pierre-Louis, Dumornay, Louis, Borgella, Mondesir
Unused subs: Surpris, Moryl, Etienne, Eloissaint, Ambroise, Pierre-Jerome, Ganthier, Mathurin, Larco, S Joseph, F Joseph, E Joseph
Booked: D Pierre-Louis
Manager: Nicholas Delepine
Referee: Emikar Calderas
Haiti were dangerous on the break, with star player Melchie Durmonay pulling the strings in midfield.
What they lacked was a solid attacking presence, but they showed enough here to cause problems for Denmark and China in the remaining two games.
Sarina Wiegman’s biggest selection dilemma before this game was who should start up front – Alessia Russo or Rachel Daly. She left with Russo but it was a frustrating evening for the Arsenal striker who was thwarted on numerous occasions by Theus.
England did not impress in defense either, with returning captain Millie Bright looking rusty. Bright started her first competitive game four months after undergoing knee surgery and struggled with the pace of the game.
In the first minute, she played a pass right at the feet of Haiti’s captain Nerilia Mondesir, who pressed forward to force a corner that England just barely converted.
Bright was then caught again as Roselord Borgella ran from behind, but the winger could only fire wide from a tight angle. Suddenly the absence of injured England stars Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby was crucial.
The Lionesses’ exit was sloppy but eventually decided. It looked like they would be awarded a penalty in the 18th minute after replays showed Dayana Pierre-Louis had rammed her cleats into Chloe Kelly’s leg.
Referee Emikar Calderas went to the monitor but ruled that Russo had committed a foul in advance. Pierre-Louis was cautioned for tackling Kelly, although she was lucky not to be shown a red card.
But the VAR drama was far from over as the referee returned to the pitchside monitor seven minutes later. An England corner was thrown at the back post and Batcheba Louis, for reasons only she knows, launched herself into the air with both hands – as if trying to intercept the cross.
The ball flew past her fingertips and it was an easy decision for the referee – penalty. Penalties were awarded in six of England’s seven games – but only two shooters had scored.
Georgia Stanway had never missed a penalty at international level, but when the midfielder stepped forward, Haiti’s 1.60-metre goalkeeper Kerly Theus leaped to the right and slid the ball around the post.
She was immediately mobbed by her teammates, but her celebrations were cut short when replays showed she had clearly strayed from her line. A replay was ordered and Stanway stepped forward again.
She went the same way, but hard and deep, with Theus rooted to the spot as the net buckled. England might have prevailed but still looked like they were not doing well.
Dumornay continued to cause problems and almost equalized early in the second half. Her fierce long-range shot was deflected in the air by Mary Earps before England cleared their lines.
Russo then had two chances to extend their side’s lead, but both attempts were parried by Theus. The goalkeeper continued to frustrate the England striker by deflecting her header over the bar with a brilliant leap just after the hour mark.
A big moment came in the 80th minute when Mondesir sliced through the English defense and Roseline Eloissaint put the ball on goal, but Earps stuck a foot out and made a great save.
It wasn’t convincing, but neither was the Lionesses’ victory over Austria in their first European Championship game last year. That narrow 1-0 win was followed by an unexpected 8-0 win over Norway.
Many had thought this would be their toughest game of the group and the same is expected for the second game against Denmark next week – although a similar result seems unlikely.
As the full-time whistle blew, a familiar song blared out of the speakers. Sweet Caroline – the theme song of England’s EM triumph. If they want to hear this song at the finals in Sydney on August 19th, they still have a lot to do.