England is one of the favorites to win the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Lionesses proved their mettle last year at the Women’s European Championships, cruising to the title on home soil. The hosts scored 22 goals and conceded only two throughout the tournament.
That Euro win was just the latest step in England’s meteoric rise. Years of investment, on and off the pitch, have paid off — and a World Cup triumph would be the project’s crown jewel.
There’s always been an interest gap between men’s and women’s football. It’s especially prominent in England, where women were outright banned from even playing on league football pitches until 1970. Less than a million people tuned into England’s group games at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, compared to four million watching from Germany — even without the involvement of their own national team.
On-field results matched this enthusiasm: England wouldn’t even consistently qualify for the World Cup until the late 2000s. Yet, as the women’s game grew around the world, it also grew in England. But the Lionesses always lagged behind the heavyweights, the likes of the United States, Germany and Sweden.
That all changed with the 2021 appointment of the Netherlands’ Sarina Wiegman. The Dutch head coach took England’s modest progress and pushed it into overdrive. Wiegman’s England quickly earned a reputation for ruthlessness.
The Lionesses would go on to annihilate minnows Latvia 20-0 in November of that year. Their 5-1 rout of Wiegman’s former team — then-European champions — established them as a true top team ahead of their own Euro victory.
One of Wiegman’s biggest feats as England manager has been creating a positive dressing room. Star forward Alessia Russo told ESPN that Wiegman “puts trust in the players.”
Wiegman’s not just a man-manager. She prefers a patient passing 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, but is more than capable of adjusting. As defeat drew near against Spain at the Euros, Wiegman switched to a mid-block counter to mount a late comeback.
Wiegman is very set in her starting 11 — the same players started every game at the Euros. Likewise, she’s decisive with substitutions, usually retooling the attack at the hour mark.
Tactics are, of course, nothing without talent. The success of Wiegman’s Lionesses has allowed the Women’s Super League — England’s top flight — to grow to new heights. The league has posted record revenues season on season for years, especially in the wake of England’s Euro victory.
That windfall can go directly to academies, but it’s also made the WSL a premier destination for foreign talent. English youngsters now regularly compete with some of the best players in the world, and the WSL has become an ideal proving ground.
These youngsters are bound to shine Down Under, and 24-year-old Russo will spearhead the attack. Though best known for her explosive finishing, she’s just as capable of leading Wiegman’s high press, or even dropping deep to facilitate others in the vein of Harry Kane.
Pacey, dribble-happy wingers like Manchester City teammates Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly suit Wiegman’s penchant for overloads out wide. The defense is a bit more seasoned, with 29-year-old Alex Greenwood and 25-year-old Jess Carter joining the veteran duo of Lucy Bronze and interim captain Millie Bright in the back four.
England’s midfield exemplifies its biggest problem: injuries. Attacking midfielder Fran Kirby and her defensive counterpart, captain Leah Williamson, have been ruled out with knee injuries. Worst of all, England is also missing its best player: Euro top scorer and Ballon d’Or Féminin runner-up Beth Mead tore her ACL in November. She’s the key cog in the English attack.
Though Russo, Hemp and Kelly are more than adequate deputies, the Lionesses will be weaker without Mead. England is also without all-time top scorer Ellen White, who retired after the Euros. Each absentee is tournament-tested and would’ve likely started, meaning Wiegman must adjust to an overall lack of experience in her squad.
England already knows the scale of its task at this tournament. The Lionesses scraped past Haiti, debutants and heavy underdogs, in their opening game of the competition, eking out a 1-0 win from a Georgia Stanway penalty. In fact, the team was only spared the embarrassment of a draw — or even a loss — by the fantastic saves of goalkeeper Mary Earps.
But under the leadership of Wiegman, and with all the talent at her disposal, England has earned the status of tournament favorite. This young, hungry side has all the tools to end their nation’s “years of hurt” and bring the cup home.