Women’s World Cup Daily: U.S. wins, England struggles vs. Haiti, penalties galore

The 2023 Women’s World Cup is in full swing, and these daily files will give you the latest reporting from around the 2023 World Cup as well as betting lines, what-to-watch-for information and best reads. Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Australia and New Zealand.

The U.S. women’s national team got the result it expected, though perhaps not the margin of victory it anticipated going in, defeating Vietnam 3-0 in the teams’ 2023 FIFA World Cup opener. Sophia Smith scored two first-half goals and Lindsey Horan added a third on a day when the U.S. defense was untroubled.

Smith scored the opener in the 14th minute, finishing through the legs of Vietnam keeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh after she was put through thanks to Alex Morgan’s layoff. Morgan should have added to the U.S. scoreline, but her 44th-minute penalty was saved by Tran. It was left to Smith to extend the Americans’ lead, scoring deep into first-half stoppage time as she fired home after a weak attempted punch by Tran.

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The U.S. kept up its territorial dominance in the second half, and finally broke through in the 77th minute with Smith assisting on Lindsey Horan’s goal.

– Caitlin Murray, in Auckland, reports on how U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski was being risky with his team selections against Vietnam.

– USWNT player ratings: Smith leads the way

While it didn’t hurt the team in its opener, Andonovski will have to get his lineups right vs. the Netherlands on Wednesday if the defending champs are going to remain on a winning course.

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — The U.S. women’s national team got off to winning start, even as it wasted a tournament’s worth of chances in a 3-0 win over Vietnam. Sophia Smith — one of six World Cup debutantes for the U.S. — was the star of the game with two goals and an assist. But the U.S. was made to work hard for its win, as Vietnam proved to be organized and disciplined in frustrating the Americans for long stretches. Alex Morgan having a penalty saved by Vietnam keeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh added to the frustration.

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But ultimately the U.S. did more than enough to the win — it held a 28-0 shot advantage, though only seven were on target, and even got a look at Julie Ertz as a center-back. Ertz had previously been thought to be the team’s starting midfielder, but the recent injury to Becky Sauerbrunn changed the plans of manager Vlatko Andonovski, and Ertz looked solid alongside Naomi Girma.

Both Rose Lavelle and Megan Rapinoe made appearances late in the match, with Rapinoe’s giving her 200 appearances with the U.S. women’s national team. All in all, a good night. — Jeff Carlisle

BRISBANE, Australia — England are off and running, but it was far from convincing as they survived a scare to beat World Cup debutants Haiti 1-0 in Brisbane. Goalkeeper Mary Earps was England’s best player, while Haiti will have felt aggrieved to not come away from this match with at least a point as their marauding midfielder Melchie Dumornay was the best outfield player on the pitch.

Before the game, Haiti manager Nicolas Delépine pointed out England’s recent wastefulness in front of goal and there was little evidence to suggest they’ve solved that problem. For so much of the match England were living off scraps up front, with Georgia Stanway’s 29th minute penalty the only thing separating the teams (which she scored at the second time of asking, after her first effort was saved and then ruled out as goalkeeper Kerly Théus had come too far off her line.)

The introduction of Lauren James on the hour mark didn’t bring the required fluidity in attack to England’s game as Ella Toone struggled to get into the game in the No. 10 role, while Alessia Russo had a series of half-decent chances but saw them well saved by Theus. Instead, it was Haiti who had the best chances to score. Roselord Borgella missed a one-on-one in the first half, Haiti had two decent chances when players were left unmarked in the box from corners, while Lyon-bound Dumornay forced Earps into a smart save in the second half.

It was only further heroics from Earps in the 80th minute which kept Haiti out as she was forced into a fine stop with her feet against Roseline Eloissaint, who had escaped England’s defence to carve out a huge chance. A 1-0 win is job done for England, but it was far from convincing. — Tom Hamilton

HAMILTON, New Zealand — Since they won the 2011 World Cup and then a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, the last decade for Japan’s women has been a casual slide into frustration, backed by a sense of apathy from the JFA. Even when they reached the World Cup final in 2015, Japan did so without really flexing their muscles, moving the ball but rarely pressing the issue.

With almost all of the 2011 side now phased out or retired, the team have struggled to reach their enigmatic best. Yet, following the appointment of Futoshi Ikeda — the former U20 and U17 coach — the team have finally started to find form, even though it took over a year to start seeing positive performances.

Needing a strong start against Zambia, Nadeshiko fell foul of VAR and the offside flag on multiple occasions as they took their time to settle into the game, finding calm and joy in their attacking football. The deadlock was broken with a 43rd-minute goal from Hinata Miyazawa, then the floodgates opened once Mina Tanaka finally found the net in the second half (after having two earlier efforts called back for offside by VAR) and Miyazawa scored again. Jun Endo and substitute Riko Ueki added some gloss to the scoreline and Zambia goalkeeper Catherine Musonda was dismissed late on for two yellow cards.

More than just keeping the ball and going forward well, Japan managed to stop the supply lines to the Copper Queens’ talismanic Barbra Banda, taking the captain out of the game and muting the entire opposition in the process. With a potentially long journey ahead of them, their commanding 5-0 win should provide firm foundations for the team to build on as they work their way through the tournament. For now the win takes them top of the table, ahead of Spain on goal difference. — Sophie Lawson

The penalties keep on coming in Australia and New Zealand. By the end of England’s narrow win over Haiti on Saturday, all eight games played had seen one awarded. Only half of them have been scored, though, with some big players missing from 12 yards.

New Zealand’s Ria Percival, Canada’s Christine Sinclair, Spain’s Jenni Hermoso and USA’s Alex Morgan have all squandered spot kicks, although only Sinclair’s miss proved crucial as Canada dropped two points against Nigeria. England’s Georgia Stanway and Japan’s Riko Ueki also saw penalties saved, although they were handed a second chance by VAR because the goalkeepers had encroached. Both then converted their second efforts.

It is the use of VAR that has led to the spike in penalties. Five of the eight given in the tournament were not spotted in real time; instead, the referees awarded them after reviewing the pitchside monitor, announcing the decision over the microphone as FIFA trials a new method of keeping fans informed. Perhaps the most controversial call came in Switzerland’s win over the Philippines when Jessika Cowart was deemed to have fouled Coumba Sow, although play had continued without any protest from the Swiss.

At the current rate of one per game, the record for penalties at a Women’s World Cup will be smashed. Four years ago, 26 were given in 52 games, setting the current high at an average of 0.5 penalties per game. In 2015, 22 were awarded (0.42 per game), but prior to that the average had never gone beyond 0.35 and the count never higher than 11, although the number of games played in the World Cup has continued to increase. — Sam Marsden

Given that the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup marked the end of a 16-year gap between tournament appearances for Denmark, some sense of nervousness and disjointedness was to be expected in their opening game. Few Danish fans, though, will be happy that it took almost 90 minutes for coach Lars Sondergaard’s side to find the back of the net in future contests.

De rod-hvide finally broke through a spirited Chinese defence to secure a 1-0 winning start to their World Cup in Saturday’s late kickoff, when Pernille Harder swung in a corner in the dying stages that substitute Amalie Vangsgaard drove home with a powerful header. Making it sweeter, it was Vangsgaard’s maiden international goal and her side’s first effort on target all game long.

Neither the Danes nor Shui Qingxia’s China had been clean or decisive in possession across a cagey opening stanza, though the reigning Asian champions were able to fashion more of the game’s half-chances across the first 45. The tempo quickened and both units began to fashion more chances in increasingly back and forth chaos in the second half but it was the Danes eventually breaking through to win the first game of the 2023 World Cup to finish without a penalty being awarded. — Joey Lynch

Group G: Sweden vs. South Africa (Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington; 5 p.m. local / 1 a.m. ET / 6 a.m. UK)

Odds: Sweden -1400, Draw +750, South Africa +3500

Sweden’s hugely talented team will look to lay down a marker when they open their campaign against South Africa at Wellington Regional Stadium. Milan’s Kosovare Asllani, Barcelona’s Fridolina Rolfo and Bayern Munich’s Magdalena Eriksson are all hugely experienced and form the spine of a side looking to go one better than 2019, when they reached the semifinals. “Sweden are at their best when we have a clear identity — and we have that this tournament,” Eriksson warned Saturday.

South Africa’s preparations, meanwhile, were hampered by a pay dispute, but captain Refiloe Jane insists “everything is resolved” and the players are focused on football. Coach Desiree Ellis wants Morocco’s men’s World Cup semifinal run to serve as inspiration. “They were in a tough group and no one gave them a chance,” she said. “We take a lot of heart from that.”

Group E: Netherlands vs. Portugal (Forsyth Barr, Dunedin; 7.30 p.m. local / 3.30 a.m. ET / 8.30 a.m. UK)

Odds: Netherlands -215, Draw +320, Portugal +550

Finalists four years ago, the Netherlands have been flattering to deceive for some time. Even in France 2019, the Oranje reached the final without really hitting top gear. This time around the considerations are different: The squad is younger, star striker Vivianne Miedema is still rehabbing an ACL injury, and next-most important player (Lieke Martens) has been battling with her own injuries this year.

Despite the context, the pressure will still be on the Dutch to deliver, especially against a debuting but evolving Portugal team. In an unforgiving group, there is little room for error. — Sophie Lawson

Group F: France vs. Jamaica (Sydney Football Stadium; 8 p.m. local / 6 a.m. ET / 11 a.m. UK)

Odds: France -6000, Draw +1200, Jamaica +8000

Coming into yet another tournament as something between favourites and sneaky contenders, France’s problems off of the pitch — like Jamaica’s — have been well-documented but even with Hervé Renard bringing positivity and joy back to Les Bleues, the World Cup may have come just too soon for France. Without Marie-Antoinette Katoto, Amandine Henry, Griedge Mbock and Delphine Cascarino, there’s no question that France have been considerably weakened in each third of the pitch.

We have also seen them struggle for their best in the limited time Renard has had with the squad. Favourites against the Reggae Girlz, France will be looking for a strong showing against Jamaica to build through the group stage but their defence will be given a stern test by Bunny Shaw & Co. — Sophie Lawson

Crystal Dunn playing with freedom and fury
Motherhood and finding her voice have helped the U.S. women’s national team veteran liberate herself from the pressure to perform.

England’s turbulent World Cup prep
It’s been a difficult year for the Lionesses since winning the Euros at home last summer. Can they rally, shrugging off key injuries and off-field conflict, to make a strong run at the World Cup?

Why are so many Women’s World Cup stars missing due to torn ACLs?
The list of absentees is depressingly long. Why is this long-term injury so much more prevalent in the women’s game?

When you score (twice) in your first ever World Cup game, chances are you are going to be named the player of the match. So when Sophia Smith was tabbed as the top player from the USWNT’s 3-0 win over Vietnam, she got the snazzy trophy — from her dad!

As dads often do, Kenny Smith was quite doting over his daughter as he gave her a big hug for her stellar performance. As she said, “Thanks, Dad!”

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