More than 400 England caps. That’s what will be missing from this Women’s World Cup compared to last year’s triumphant Lionesses team.
Captain Leah Williamson, Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner Beth Mead and elite talent Fran Kirby are injured, while legends Jill Scott and Ellen White have retired. It’s a lot of experience to lose ahead of a major tournament.
However, it hasn’t made the nation doubt that Sarina Wiegman can lead England to glory again, just 12 months on from lifting their first trophy. It’s impossible to replace the likes of Williamson, Kirby and Scott, but Wiegman has still put together a squad with versatility, depth, quality, and a mixture of youth and tournament know-how.
There are six players who have never been to a tournament before – Katie Zelem, Esme Morgan, Laura Coombs, Katie Robinson and Chelsea duo Niamh Charles and Lauren James – and what they lack in experience should be countered with their hunger to impress on the biggest stage.
James, in particular, is a player that can dazzle and excite, and she adds something different to the team from last year. There won’t be many sides competing in Australia and New Zealand who have a player with James’ X-factor. It could be the summer that her rising star goes global.
It is a different squad from the Euros, but England’s forward line is still scarily good.
This season’s WSL top scorer, Rachel Daly, played at left-back last summer, but after her exploits up front for Aston Villa this season, Wiegman has selected her as a forward.
Beth England has earned her place back for the first time since September after a smart move to Spurs in January, where she netted 12 goals in 12 games. She didn’t feature at the Euros, and Wiegman has acknowledged her resilience – a key quality if England are to go deep. Alessia Russo, Chloe Kelly and Ella Toone have all had brilliant seasons and now have a chance to take on even bigger roles.
To balance out some of the youthful exuberance, Lucy Bronze and Millie Bright both passed fitness tests to make the squad and their experience will be vital. Bright will relish captaining the team in Williamson’s absence – she has done it before under Wiegman – and her leadership will be key, especially for the group’s younger players.
As well as the talent on the pitch, England have one of the best managers in the game. A proven tournament winner with England and her native Netherlands, Wiegman will be the driving force behind the team again. Leading the Lionesses to victory at the Euros, and more recently on penalties at the Finalissima, she’s strong and set in her methods, and has proved she can motivate players to believe they can go all the way.
So, as we head into the biggest women’s World Cup ever, with 32 countries competing for the first time, we can consider how this has given the women’s game the chance to grow even further. Nations like the Republic of Ireland, Haiti, Philippines, Vietnam and Panama have qualified for the first time, earning an opportunity to showcase their talent worldwide.
As holders, the USA will fancy their chances as always, even with a much-changed team, and along with some of the other favourites including Germany, France and joint-hosts Australia, England will have to be at the top of their game, even without some of their most experienced players. The Lionesses are the current queens of Europe, but they’re more than capable of finishing this summer as officially the greatest team in the world.
The end of BT Sport Score
The final day of this amazing 2022/23 Premier League season also marked the end of BT Sport Score. I remember the very first day as if it was yesterday: walking into the colossal studio at the Olympic Park in east London with very little broadcast experience of that scale, before it became my life every single Saturday for seven years.
It’s a unique presenting role and I have loved every minute of it. The completely unscripted nature of following live 3pm matches as they unfold and describing the action as it happens is exhilarating, and the unpredictable nature of it made it so exciting every week. The number of people that play a part in making those programmes come to life is incredible, and I’m so proud to have been a part of BT Sport Score from the beginning through to the very last show.