• Soccer World Cup

England Edges Haiti 1-0 in a Tough Opener for Euro Champions at Women’s World Cup

AP Photo/Tertius Pickard
England’s Georgia Stanway, left, celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Women’s World Cup Group D soccer match between England and Haiti in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, July 22, 2023.

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The champions of Europe had to struggle for a 1-0 win over a Haiti lineup feeding off Melchie Dumornay’s forays through the England defense and Kerly Theus’ series of athletic saves in its Women’s World Cup debut on Saturday.

The difference between the world’s No. 4-ranked team and the unheralded, under-resourced, 53-ranked team from strife-torn Haiti came down to a handball.

A retaken penalty from Georgia Stanway in the 29th minute was enough for England to earn three points, the primary objective in the Group D opener for England manager Sarina Wiegman. But it did expose some deficiencies in her injury-depleted team.

“Haiti were unpredictable, they’re very transitional. That’s what they showed,” Wiegman said. “We were struggling with that.

“The win is the most important thing but now we need the final thing in finishing our chances.”

England had 19 shots on goal, including 10 on target. Theus made a succession of saves to keep Haiti in the contest, even stopping Stanway’s first penalty attempt before a VAR review ruled encroachment and gave the England midfielder a second chance — which she drilled inside the left post.

Haiti, drawing on players based mainly in France and the U.S., wanted to bring some positive news to a country in turmoil. For them, the narrow loss could be viewed as a win, of sorts.

“We’re very proud of our performance,” coach Nicolas Delépine said. “We’ve worked very hard and it was a huge test for us. We were very close to England, but there are always things we can do better on the pitch.”

The 19-year-old Dumornay regularly troubled the England defense and created opportunities, but Haiti couldn’t quite finish.

They went within inches of a late equalizer, only for England goalkeeper Mary Earps to make a crucial reflex save in the 81st in a close-range, one-on-one with substitute forward Roseline Éloissaint.

“I can say if we do that against England, we can do anything against anyone,” Dumornay said.

Dumornay was threatening on the counter and but missed with her first real opportunity, narrowly failing to connect with a cross from the right in the 35th as she attempted a bicycle kick from inside the area.

And, just after halftime, Dumornay lashed a powerful right-foot shot that forced Earps into a save.

Ultimately, it was an inexplicable lapse from Haiti’s Batcheba Louis, who reached up as she jumped in the area and was penalized for handball, that made the difference.

Otherwise, it was an impressive debut in front of a 44,369 crowd from Haiti, one of the last three teams to qualify for the biggest Women’s World Cup ever staged. And against an England team that surged into World Cup contention with its first major title a year ago,

The Lionesses beat Germany 2-1 in the final of the 2022 Euros in front of 87,192 fans at Wembley, heightening hopes in England of a world title. But ACL injuries to Beth Mead, the Player of the Tournament at the Euros, and Leah Williamson forced Wiegman into changes.

Millie Bright took over as captain but also spent months recovering from a serious knee injury before being cleared to play a full part this week.

England hasn’t scored a goal in open play since the win over Brazil in the Finalissma in April, and would have have been expecting a more polished display.

“It’s been a long build-up to today and I think we’re kind of happy to just get over the line,” Stanway said. Haiti “caused us problems, they were threatening on the counter attack, they were fast and they were physical. And, yeah, they challenged us in areas that we probably didn’t really expect.”

Alessia Russo started up front for England and created opportunities but wasn’t able to convert them. Approaching the hour, she forced two saves from Theus within a minute, while Haiti was temporarily down to 10 players with inspirational skipper Nérilia Mondésir getting treatment on a left ankle injury.

Russo’s header in the 64th was tipped over the crossbar by Theus. Bright also fired over the crossbar minutes later.

The addition of Lauren James and Rachel Daly off the bench added energy and edge to the England attack over the last half hour but it didn’t result in more goals.

Both teams are back in action Friday, with England moving to Sydney and likely to make lineup changes to face Denmark, and Haiti meeting China in Adelaide.