Preparations are in full swing as England gear up for their opening match of the Women’s World Cup. Sky Sports News’ Gail Davies reports on the questions to be answered for the Lionesses.
There were smiles and laughter as he took part in training in the sunshine on the Gold Coast.
Sarina Wigman was enjoying herself, looking relaxed and completely happy to start her World Cup campaign. Joining him on the pitch was captain Millie Bright all smiles – and no wonder.
Earlier this year, his World Cup dreams were in the hands of a knee surgeon, but four months on, the Chelsea centre-back is ready and willing to lead his country.
What to watch on Sky Sports this week?
151st Open – 20 to 23 July – Live on Sky Sports Golf
4th Men’s Ashes Test – 19 to 23 July – Live on Sky Sports Cricket
premier league summer series – From 23 July – Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Hungarian Grand Prix – 21 to 23 July – Live on Sky Sports F1
F1 Juniors: Hungarian GP – 23 July – Live on Sky Sports Mix
world matchplay darts – 17 to 23 July – Live on Sky Sports Action
Women’s World Matchplay Darts – 22 to 23 July – Live on Sky Sports Action
IBF Lightweight Title Eliminator – 23 July – Live on Sky Sports Action
Wigman is a meticulous planner, so much so that she says she never suspected Bright would do it. “That was the plan, and the plan worked,” she insists.
Apart from the closed-door game against Canada last week, the England captain has not played since facing Lyon in the Champions League in March, but it is a temporary boost given the absence of many of England’s heroes last summer.
She herself says: “When I was surrounded by the best people, I was very sure of my recovery and I was given everything I needed to be in this position. I am grateful that I am able to play.”
Taking over the captaincy from Leah Williamson after the Arsenal player was ruled out of the World Cup with an ACL injury was always going to be a challenge.
Bright will now have to be more than a defender. Now, she has to become the leader of a group of women who are determined to win, but also use their platform to make a mark on the field. This brings a whole new dimension to the role.
Last week, Bright published a letter about the players’ decision to stop talks with the FA over bonuses, which threatened to destabilize England’s campaign. That hasn’t stopped the question from being asked as to why the team felt compelled to make this statement in what they collectively hope will be a career-defining tournament.
“It’s not a situation everyone wants to be in,” she says. “As players, we’re not only programmed to play football, sometimes we have to have these conversations.
“But we have a very professional group and football is always at the forefront of everything. Everyone has seen the statement, so the players are now focusing their attention on the game, everything is on hold. We will resolve the situation later.”
The line ‘focus on football’ is repeated by Wegman as well. She adds, “When we go on the field everyone is united and everyone is focused on the football, I haven’t seen any other behaviour. So yes we are ready.”
“We’ve said all the time that we want to be ready on July 22 and I think we are. We’ve had our last training session and we’re ready to go.”
Small things decide big tournaments; We listen to the coaches talk about cultures, the environment and margin of profit and how nothing can be left to chance. How much the players can focus with a hint, no matter how small, no doubt we won’t know until the tournament starts in the next few weeks.
The Lionesses begin this tournament against a completely different background from last summer. Player release issues, bonuses, injury concerns of their current captain, 2022 wins leader Williamson and Euros top goal scorer Beth Mead both ruled out, and high expectations.
No problem, says Wiegmann.
“The pressure is always on England”, she says. “It’s no different. We’ll just play our game and focus on how we can win. We’ve tried a number of things so that everyone can be ready for Saturday.”
“We also know that what happens today can change tomorrow. We have two players for every position, it is very competitive and it has given us headaches. I want it to keep giving me headaches.”
Try as we might, that’s all the England head coach has to say about his starting line-up for the game against Haiti. Last year she stuck with the same XI throughout the Euros – you can set your clock by the timing of her super-sub, as Ella Toon and Alessia Russo’s numbers rattled 60 minutes.
This time it is not going to be easy for Wiegmann, who has decided on her starting XI but did not say when she would tell her players.
Perhaps the biggest call comes. Does WSL top scorer Rachael Daly, and handed the number 9 shirt for this tournament, start or is it Rousseau – who was a game-changer for England on several occasions last summer. The matches have been tight this World Cup so far and the new Arsenal signing could be the most dangerous off the bench.
The role of number 10 is also interesting. England were missing the craft of Fran Kirby, who was also absent with a knee injury, so will Toon step up and make the spot his own, or will Wigman choose something else?
Lauren James came into position in the second half of England’s friendly against Portugal and looked a real threat.
Beyond that, who plays with Bright in the back, and which position Alex Greenwood gets the most are other questions Wiegman may not yet know the answer to.
How about answering my last question, the last of all – can England win the World Cup, a trophy that is yet to be held by both the country and Wigman?
“We’re here, we have a dream and of course it always comes true when you wake up,” she says philosophically. “Of course, we’ll give it our all.”
Most England fans would take it for granted as they gear up for what they hope will be a truly memorable few weeks.