England boss Sarina Wiegman has finalised her squad for this summer’s World Cup finals as she targets another taste of glory.
The European champions have lost key players since their triumph at Wembley last year, but have potential new stars waiting in the wings.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the challenges which lie ahead in Australia and New Zealand.
How does Wiegman plug the holes at the back?
We can confirm that Leah Williamson suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament on Wednesday night.
We're all right behind you, @leahcwilliamson ❤️
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) April 21, 2023
The anterior cruciate ligament injury which has ruled skipper Leah Williamson out of the tournament not only robs England of their captain, but also of a key defender. Millie Bright’s inclusion – Wiegman has confirmed the Chelsea star will wear the armband – has allayed fears over her fitness, with both she and full-back Lucy Bronze, who is also included, nursing knee problems. Left-back Alex Greenwood is a candidate to partner Bright in the middle, but Rachel Daly’s inclusion among the strikers suggests she will not be asked to play at full-back as she has done for her country in the past.
Who are England’s potential match-winners?
The absence of Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner Beth Mead and Fran Kirby through injury and retired record goalscorer Ellen White might be felt more acutely if Wiegman did not have a wealth of attacking talent at her disposal. Ella Toone, Chloe Kelly and Alessia Russo proved game-changers from the bench last summer and will target more significant roles this time around, while Rachel Daly will head for the finals having scored 22 goals for Aston Villa in the Women’s Super League this season and the recalled Bethany England has 12 to her name since joining Tottenham from Chelsea in January. In addition, the Lionesses can also call upon emerging talents Lauren James and Katie Robinson.
Who are England’s main rivals?
Holders the United States are looking to lift the trophy for a third successive tournament – a fifth in total – and FIFA’s number one-ranked team will be hot favourites to do so. England beat the USA 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley in October last year but will not be taken in by that success. Germany, who lost to Wiegman’s side in the Euro 2022 final, will also be expected to feature prominently, as will semi-final opponents Sweden. Olympic champions Canada, whose campaign for equal pay prompted calls for a strike earlier this year, and co-hosts Australia, who will have Chelsea goal-machine Sam Kerr in their ranks, could have a say too.
What kind of form are they in?
Our incredible 30-game unbeaten run finally comes to an end. It's been some ride ❤️
This summer, we go again 👊👊 pic.twitter.com/qY3TOxGf3p
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) April 11, 2023
England’s form had been little short of exemplary until April’s 2-0 friendly defeat by Australia at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium brought their 30-game unbeaten run under Wiegman to an end. However, there is a feeling within the camp that the run was always going to end eventually and it is far better that it did so in a friendly. The accuracy of that view will only become apparent when they embark upon their Group D fixtures against Haiti, Denmark and China.
Can a depleted squad live up to the expectation they have created?
England will head to the tournament having made it to the semi-finals at the last two World Cups, but not managed to go a step further. They cleared a major psychological hurdle last summer when they won the Euros on home soil having negotiated a tense last-eight clash with Spain and nerve-jangling showdown with Germany in the final and will travel Down Under with that vital tournament experience under their belts and confident of making an impression once again.