Tuesday, June 18, 2024

England Women reporter notebook: With or without Keira Walsh, Lionesses have a plan to avoid last-16 upset vs Nigeria – Sky Sports


England hope to have midfielder player Keira Walsh back from a knee injury to face Nigeria; follow the Women’s World Cup last-16 match between England and Nigeria from Brisbane on Monday with Sky Sports’ live blog; kick-off 8.30am
Sky Sports News reporter
Monday 7 August 2023 08:56, UK
It would be one of the most remarkable comebacks.
Ten days on from being stretchered off in tears with a suspected tournament-ending ACL injury, Keira Walsh could start in England’s last-16 game against Nigeria. The midfielder is back in full training and, after last week’s reticence in giving any details of Walsh’s knee injury or recovery time, Sarina Wiegman was markedly upbeat about her chances of featuring.
“She is doing well. She started her rehab straight after we knew what was going on,” said the England manager. “She has been on the pitch. She has been training today. Now we wait and see how she has recovered from that training session. And if she does well then she is available.”
The physical and mental torture that Walsh has no doubt gone through over the past week or so is unimaginable, but as you might expect from one of the world’s best, Walsh has dealt with it in the only way she knows how – taken the challenge head on and has, it seems, come out on top.
“Well of course it was that moment in the game [vs Denmark] that was a very hard moment,” added Wiegman. “Not good, not nice to see, but after the assessment, we really knew what was going on and we also said don’t take any assumptions.
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“Just wait until a proper assessment has been done. That’s what we did and then we got the green light to get her rehab started. Because everyone is going on about injuries all the time, we were worried, but then really quick and the day after we noticed that things weren’t as bad. It looked bad, but not as people thought it was.”
If there is an upside to having to play without one of your stars, then Wiegman more than found it. How do you replace the irreplaceable midfield maestro? You don’t if you are Wiegman: you go bold. The England head coach played three at the back with her wing-backs pushing on and the result was a thumping win over China and a Plan B for England.
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So if Walsh is fit, do the Lionesses revert to type? “No, we have two options now. The way we played and what we did against China. We have taken that into consideration, and you will see what we do. I think Katie Zelem did really well in the game against China. Now Keira’s back and that is really nice for the team too, but I think we have other options. You know Keira is exceptional, but other players can solve it and that is what we have shown.”
There is no question Walsh can easily slot into the system used against China and England do become a more dangerous opposition with the variety that it brings. After the game Wiegman talked about how the players had seized the chance to try something different and the system “uses the qualities of the squad optimally”. That was echoed by Lucy Bronze, who admitted England had become a little predictable.
What that formation also allowed was for Lauren James to have the time and space to dazzle. This was the moment the Chelsea player really arrived at this tournament. “Is the cat out of the bag now about James?” the England head coach was asked. Wiegman for the first time at this World Cup looked speechless – a quick explanation brought a smile and a laugh and then it was straight back down to business.
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“We didn’t make the starting line-up yet,” she said. “Some countries do mark and want to take out players not only one, but more players. So that is good when you have so many good players on the pitch. They have to be aware of all those players. We know when players are man marked that you find other ways to build or hopefully get chances and score goals. We are aware of that and we will be prepared for that too.”
Nigeria are ranked 40th in the world, but they will provide a stern test at both ends of the pitch. They conceded just twice in the group stage and with three against Australia they are a threat in attack too. There is no question of complacency among this group of England players as they look for a quarter-final place. Wiegman has made sure of that.
“Nigeria have done really well this tournament,” she added. “They were in a really hard group. They are a very athletic team and quick in transitional play. We are aware of their strengths, but we have to try and exploit their weaknesses.
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“What we have seen in this tournament, nothing is easy. Absolutely not [will we be complacent.] There haven’t been any easy games for us so far and we do not expect one against Nigeria. We have to be at our best. Everyone who plays us wants to beat us. That’s nothing new.”
In a tournament which has already seen some seismic shocks and the world order turned upside down, England have been warned and they have no intention of being the next high-profile casualty of this World Cup.
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The round of 16 takes place from August 5 to August 8, with eight games being played across Australia and New Zealand.
The quarter-finals, which will be held in Wellington, Auckland, Brisbane and Sydney, are scheduled for August 11 and 12.
The first semi-final will then be played on August 15 in Auckland, with the other semi-final taking place on August 16 at the Accor Stadium in Sydney, which will then host the final on August 20.
A third-place play-off will be played the day before the final on August 19 in Brisbane.
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