How euphoria turned to despair for England after huge Keira Walsh blow

FROM SYDNEY FOOTBALL STADIUM – After six minutes of England’s Group D clash against Denmark, things were looking rosy for Sarina Wiegman’s side.

Lauren James, drafted into the starting lineup alongside Rachel Daly, had scored a superb individual goal from outside of the penalty area, immediately giving a lift to an England side who had really struggled against Haiti in their opening game.

But it didn’t take long for the euphoria of that moment to wear off, as Keira Walsh – England’s standout player during their Women’s Euro 2022 success on home soil – fell to the floor with a serious looking knee injury.

No England fan dare utter the dreaded three letters, ACL, with Leah Williamson and Beth Mead already ruled out of the tournament after suffering the injury during a gruelling 2022/23 season.

Yet the devastated body language of Walsh’s England teammates told the story of how serious her own knee problem is likely to be – the Barcelona midfielder shouting over the bench to “I’ve done my knee” and telling her teammates to “get off” after twisting awkwardly from an attempted tackle.

One of the first names on Wiegman’s teamsheet ever since she broke into the side, Walsh will be a huge miss if the worst fears are to become reality. The heartbeat of England’s midfield holds everything together and is a player for the big occasion – her player of the match performance in the Women’s Euro 2022 final against Germany epitomising that.

Without her, England’s chances of going far at this Women’s World Cup look bleak.

“[At the Euros] everything came through Keira. There wasn’t a Plan B,” Ellen White, England’s record goalscorer told the BBC of what Walsh being in the side means. “I dreaded to think of the idea of us ever losing her because she was one of our best players. Beth Mead was scoring all the goals, but all of our play came through Keira.”

“She was the key cog, everything moved through her. I just don’t know who England are going to have now in that six, or even potential double six, role.”

By her own admission, Wiegman stated that England lacked ruthlessness against Haiti, saying before the game that she was not afraid to make changes. Yet playing the rest of the game, let alone possibly the rest of the World Cup campaign without the 26-year-old Barcelona midfielder, was not one she would have wanted nor ever considered making – Laura Coombs the player tasked with replacing her before the break for her World Cup debut.

Coombs, who first featured for England in 2015 and spent nearly seven years out of the international set up, said after the final whistle: “We started off really well, we were shaken by losing Keira but we needed a win, we just needed to keep that one-goal lead and that’s what we did and we’re going to focus on that.

“You want to be on the pitch, you don’t want to come on in those circumstances, but happy to be on and try and do my best for the team.”


In her two-planned changes, James, whose impressive cameo against Haiti earned her a start against Denmark, changed the look and feel of the team from the get-go. However, the other key rotation of moving Daly to left back meant the cobwebs needed to be dusted off, given that the Aston Villa striker had last played in defence for England in November.

Wiegman’s changes were out of character but reflective of the change of impetus England needed. The Dutchwoman hadn’t made two changes to a starting XI since her tenure with the Netherlands, four years ago. In her last major tournament with England, she didn’t make any changes at all.

Walsh’s second half absence was the first time England had played 45 minutes of a major tournament without her since 2019, when she was omitted for the third-place playoff game against Sweden. Since then, Walsh had started all of Great Britain’s games at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, all six of England’s Euro 2022 games and the World Cup opener against Haiti.

The difference in England’s play was clear. In the first half, Denmark struggled to find any kind of rhythm on the ball, and it was Walsh dictating the pace of the game from midfield. She was threading passes through into the final third and was ensuring England ticked the ball over at the right pace.

But after Walsh’s injury, England’s energy sapped and they lacked the tempo needed to take the game away from Denmark. Gone was their dominance, though the lack of energy in the 40,439-strong crowd – subdued by Walsh’s departure despite travelling thousands of miles away from home to support the Lionesses – undoubtedly played its part.

England will need to regroup, quickly, and can take comfort from the performance of James in particular. Her early goal was not only sensational, but showed that she may be ready to take on more responsibility as the tournament progresses.

“It’s an amazing feeling, something I’ve always dreamed of, and I’m just happy to have helped the team today get the win,” James reflected of the moment. “It was obviously another difficult win, but yes, we got the win, and that’s the most important thing.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing to see one of our most valuable players get hurt, but we had to just focus on getting the win and focus on what team that was playing at the time,” she added.


Shebahn Aherne is joined by Girls on the BallChloe Morgan and 90min’s Lizzy Becherano to review the World Cup’s opening fixtures. England’s narrow win over an impressive Haiti is also analysed, as are the Lionesses’ attacking concerns going forward.

If you can’t see this embed, click here to watch the podcast!

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