Bittersweet win for England in Football Women's World Cup


Keira Walsh was stretchered off with a serious knee injury against Denmark, reports Millie Simon

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By Millie Simon

England’s second game of the World Cup 2023 puts the Lionesses at the top of the table with six points, but without Keira Walsh, their future looks uncertain.

Despite manager Sarina Wiegman rarely changing her starting line up, the game against Denmark saw two major adjustments to the squad. Firstly, top goal scorer in the Women’SL, Rachel Daly, was in the left back position. Secondly, Lauren James, for her first ever World Cup appearance, featured in the starting 11.

This is an important tournament for Denmark who are in their first World Cup since 2007, but haven’t made it out of the group stage since 1995.

The game started strongly for England, who made fewer mistakes with their passes and were more clinical with their link up play, compared to their performance against Haiti. The energetic start from England didn’t cloud their judgement and six minutes into the game, twenty-one year old James scored England’s first open play goal since April 2023.

James’ ability to read the game and open up space just outside of the penalty box, may have secured her a place in England’s starting 11 for future games.

England’s performance in the first 25 minutes seemed transformational compared to their recent performances. The goal allowed England to play more confidently, as captain Millie Bright pushed higher up the pitch, sometimes defending comfortably in Denmark’s half.

This positive mentality continued as Daly pushed high up the left wing, allowing excellent link-up play with James and Ella Toone. Denmark’s Rikke Sevecke often found herself battling against the calm link-up play of England’s left hand side.

England’s right hand side didn’t seem as confident as its left hand side, Danish defender Simone Boye was exceptional at isolating Chloe Kelly in particular, and forcing the ball out of play. Boye often body blocked any potential crosses into the Danish box and on a number of occasions prevented England from scoring any more goals.

England’s defence struggled at times to remain as switched on as its top line, as Denmark utilised some misplaced balls although these amounted to nothing. Had those chances been created by stronger teams, England would have certainly found themselves in a dangerous position. Because of the more forward role Daly and Bronze were sometimes taking, England’s final third were exposed, leaving goalkeeper Mary Earps in a vulnerable position. England should have adapted their play after the first goal, by keeping Daly and Bronze further back to prevent the Danish pushing forward.

A slide off the ball from midfielder Keira Walsh, resulted in her clutching her knee and signalling to England’s bench that she could not continue. She was then captured mouthing, “I’ve done my knee” to her teammates and medical staff and was consequently stretchered off. Walsh was seen later on in the game heading for the bench with crutches and a leg brace around her right knee.

Walsh’s injury could prove catastrophic for England as Walsh is considered as an irreplaceable player of English football, who can so masterfully engineer connectivity between the midfield and the attacking third.

Laura Coombs was subbed on for Walsh.

Instantly, Denmark seemed more confident as they spent more time in England’s half. Link-up play for England looked more sloppy and miscommunication became frequent. England seemed spooked by Walsh’s injury.

The second half brought similar energy to England’s performance as the first-half, but was quickly dimmed by a nervous moment where Bright left the ball for Greenwood far too close to England’s goal.

Georgia Stanway filled in for Walsh but England became tired with ten minutes to go. Amalie Vangsgaard had an excellent opportunity to equalise but it just came off the post. Perhaps if that same shot had come from a German or an American player, they would have scored.

The game finished 1-0 to England, but there are serious doubts over the future of Keira Walsh in this tournament. There is speculation that the injury Walsh may have sustained is a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), which has already cost England two of their best players. Scans will soon reveal whether Walsh will be fit to play England’s game against China on 1 August 2023. But for now, England’s position looks worrying.