JOHN PI (AP sportswriter)
BRISBANE, Australia (FloridaToday.news) — England beat Haiti 1-0 thanks to Georgia Stanway’s second penalty kick in Saturday’s tough first Women’s World Cup for the European champions against a team making their tournament debut.
England dominated possession in the first half but had to wait until the 29th minute for Stanway to convert a penalty. She was awarded a second shot in the VAR review for trespass after her first attempt was well deflected by Curly Theus diving full blast to her right.
The Group D game between the 4th and 53rd placed teams was tense from start to finish as Haiti striker Melchi Dumornay regularly harassed the English defence.
“I can say that if we do this against England, we can do anything against anyone,” Dumornay said.
The athletic Theus made a series of saves to end England’s chances of extending their lead, and then Haiti found themselves inches from a stunning late equalizer.
England goalkeeper Mary Earps made a decisive reflex save in the 81st from close quarters on substitute striker Roselyn Eloissain, her second major stoppage of the match.
After all, it was an inexplicable blunder on the part of Haiti’s Butcheba Louie, who pulled when she jumped in the area and was penalized for handball, which mattered.
It was an impressive debut in front of 44,369 spectators from Haiti, one of the last three teams to qualify for the biggest Women’s World Cup ever.
Despite first-half control, England were far from convincing against a Haitian squad that had regained strength defensively.
Dumornay threatened at the counter and invaded after receiving early treatment. After a long forward pass in 35th, she didn’t quite hit a cross from the right when she tried to hit her bike from the box.
And just after the break, Dumornay landed a powerful right leg that forced Earps to make a save.
The Lionesses beat Germany in the Euro final last year to claim their first major crown, boosting England’s hopes of a world title. But anterior cruciate ligament injuries to Euro 2022 MVP Beth Mead and Leah Williamson forced head coach Sarina Wigman to change.
Millie Bright took over as captain but also spent several months recovering from a serious knee injury before being cleared to play a full role this week.
England hadn’t scored a single goal in open play since beating Brazil in the Finalissma in April and were expecting a more brilliant performance.
Stanway said the most important thing is three points.
“It’s so important when you start playing in a tournament. It’s been a long preparation for today and I think we’re happy to just cross the line,” she said. “They created problems for us, they threatened to counterattack, they were fast and physically. And, yes, they challenged us in areas we probably didn’t expect.”
Alessia Russo took the lead for England and created chances but failed to convert them. Close to one, she had Theus make two saves in a minute while Haiti was down to 10 players and inspiring skipper Neriliya Mondesir was recovering from a left ankle injury.
Russo’s header in 64th was thrown over the bar by Theus, marking the Haitian goalkeeper’s seventh save. A few minutes later, Bright also shot over the bar.
The addition of Lauren James and Rachel Daly from the bench added energy and edge to England’s attack in the last half hour, but it didn’t result in more goals. England had 19 shots on goal, Haiti had six.
Both teams are back in action on Friday, with England moving to Sydney and likely making roster changes to face Denmark and Haiti to face China in Adelaide.
The Haiti team, made up of players based primarily in France and the US, aims to bring positive news to a country in turmoil.
The team has a limited number of sponsors, its training center is closed due to gang warfare, and some of its most dedicated fans can’t afford a TV to watch the World Cup.
More AP coverage of the Women’s World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.