Wednesday, September 6, 2023

No Beth Mead, more injury woes and Lauren James suspension – but still England chase World Cup glory

To say the Lionesses have stood tall in the face of adversity during this World Cup would be an understatement.

Sarina Wiegman’s England have booked themselves a spot in the final of the competition for the first time in their history by beating co-hosts Australia 3-1 in front of a hostile crowd of 75,000 in the semi-finals.

England will being looking to go one step further this Sunday and win the World CupGetty

For the first time everGetty

Despite Chelsea star Sam Kerr scoring a wonder goal from distance, the Lionesses were in control for a large majority of the game.

It’s should be no surprise, really, considering Wiegman has led teams to three successive finals prior to the 2023 World Cup, taking the Netherlands to the Euros final in 2017, then again in the 2019 World Cup and the Lionesses to last season’s Euros finale.

But this tournament has been far from perfect for the Lionesses, and it’s taken grit and determination to break through the challenges presented before them.

Injury woe

Three of England’s Euro 2022 champions were ruled out for this summer’s World Cup with knee injuries.

The saga began with forward Beth Mead being taken off in tears in Arsenal‘s game against Man United in November.

It was later revealed she’d ruptured her Anterior Cruciate Ligament, a huge blow for the Gunners but also an onlooking Wiegman, who was planning for a fast-approaching World Cup.

Mead has scored 29 goals in 50 England appearances – six of them coming at Euro 2022 to make her the tournament’s top scorer – and her absence meant the Lionesses firepower was depleted.

Mead had hoped to return for the World Cup after ‘being ahead of schedule’ in her recovery but Wiegman decided it was too soonGetty

As one part of England’s potential World Cup XI took a hit, the midfield were then handed a blow, too.

Attacking midfielder Fran Kirby hit the deck against West Ham in February, with her confirming she needed surgery on a knee injury three months on from the incident.

Kirby – who would’ve been one of the first names on Wiegman’s team sheet – came close to retirement after being diagnosed with pericarditis just months after featuring in the 2019 World Cup.

The 30-year-old Chelsea star battled back to full fitness but was then struck down with extreme fatigue that sidelined her for four months last year, but still went on to score twice and provide three assists at Euro 2022.

Kirby is back in training with Chelsea now and will hope to represent the Lionesses again soonGetty

Toone has helped ease the loss of Kirby, scoring against Australia in the semi-finalGetty

As if Mead and Kirby’s absence wasn’t enough of a kick in the teeth, defender Leah Williamson became the third Lioness to miss out on the World Cup thanks to, you’ve guessed it, a knee injury.

Just like her Arsenal teammate Mead, Williamson ruptured her ACL against Man United, throwing Wiegman’s World Cup plans into chaos.

This was the England skipper who led the side to glory last year.

But the team proved they have serious strength in depth and despite the setbacks have blasted competition aside.

Williamson started every game for England at the Euros and was a huge loss for the Lionesses ahead of this summerGetty

But Manchester City’s Greenwood has stepped up well after making five appearances from the bench at the EurosGetty

Alessia Russo and Lauren James have helped ease the loss of Mead up front, Ella Toone has stepped up to boost the attacking threat from midfield and Euro 2022 substitute Alex Greenwood has been a rock at the back, arguably becoming one of England’s best players this summer.

Superstar suspension

Despite James’ heroics in the group stage down under, the Chelsea star threw up another problem for Wiegman.

In her first major international competition, James scored the winner on her first start, against Denmark and scored two more goals agaisnt China and set up three in a 6-1 win.

But just as James was setting the football world on fire, the 21-year-old stamped on her opponent in the last-16 game against Nigeria, earning her a straight red card and a two-game ban.

After her impact on the Lionesses slow start to the tournament, England fans were then full of concern once again knowing they’d have to go on without her.

James appeared to stamp on her opponentGetty

But Russo, who joined Arsenal before the tournament began, has provided the fire powerGetty

It didn’t stop England, however.

Weigman reverted to two up top against Colombia and Australia, having played with three when James was available, and both Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo scored in both games.

England’s summer could have easily been a tale of what could have been amid all the barriers in their way.

But now they’re just one game away from bringing the World Cup home for the first time ever, and James will be back available for selection for the occasion.

It’s scary to think how dominant the Lionesses would have been if they had a full strength team throughout.

England vs Spain in the World Cup final is live on talkSPORT from 10am on Sunday 20 August

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