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England Reaches the Women’s World Cup Final Despite Key Injuries

AP Photo/Rick Rycroft
England’s head coach Sarina Wiegman stands by the bench before the start of the Women’s World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between England and Colombia at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023.

There were some doubts about England’s squad leading into the Women’s World Cup because a trio of dominant players — Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby — weren’t with the team because of injuries.

Then there were questions about how they would handle the absence of forward Lauren James, who was suspended for both England’s quarterfinal and semifinal matches.

But the Lionesses, led by coach Sarina Wiegman, have shown they are adept at adjustments — and it’s gotten them all the way to the title match.

England plays Spain on Sunday for the World Cup trophy. The Lionesses defeated Australia 3-1 in the semifinals on Wednesday.

“The commitment of this team, the willingness to become better and to win games is so high. I haven’t seen any moment that’s any different. There’s never any complacency in the team,” Wiegman said. “Of course, we’ve had a lot of things thrown at us, with injuries. We had to find a way, ‘OK, what fits best now? How to play?'”

England has played in the World Cup without their three playmakers from the 2022 European Championship squad. All three sustained knee injuries that kept them off Wiegman’s World Cup roster.

Williamson, England’s versatile captain who can play defense or in the midfield, tore her ACL while playing with club team Arsenal in a match against Manchester United in April.

Mead, who also plays for Arsenal, ruptured her ACL last November and wasn’t able to recover in time. She won the Golden Boot and the MVP award with six goals at Euro 2022.

Kirby was injured during a match for Chelsea in February and announced in May she would miss the World Cup because of knee surgery. She has 17 goals in 65 appearances for England. She started all of England’s games during the team’s run in the Euros.

At first it looked as though those absences were going to be difficult to overcome. England lost 2-0 to Australia and played to a scoreless draw with Portugal in a pair of exhibition matches ahead of the World Cup.

Then Keira Walsh, the team’s defensive midfielder, was hurt during a group-stage match against Denmark. Carried off on a stretcher, she at one point was seen saying “I’ve done my knee.” Ultimately, she missed just one game.

Williamson attended the team’s quarterfinal victory over Colombia and visited the team’s training camp. She was also expected to be at the final Sunday in Sydney.

“Obviously, they would want nothing more than to be here,” Walsh said about her missing teammates. “It is probably a bit bittersweet. They want us to win and we would want them to be here as well. Leah, Beth and Fran have been really supportive. They have messaged after every game. Hopefully, we can get the job done on Sunday and make them proud of us.”

Williamson, Kirby and Mead were among a number of high-profile international players who missed out on the World Cup because of knee injuries, and particularly ACL tears. The list included Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema, Canada’s Janine Beckie and young U.S. forward Catarina Macario.

James is able to return for Sunday’s final after a two-game suspension for stomping on a Nigeria player following a tackle in the knockout round. She has three goals and three assists in the tournament.

“As a player, you understand that at any time something can pop up, and things can change. Football is never a given,” England captain Millie Bright said. “And while we’d absolutely love everyone to be here, it’s been such a great opportunity for other people to come in and step up. We’re really blessed as a nation that we have such a big pool of players to choose from, so much talent.”