The wait is over for England to get their 2023 Women’s World Cup campaign under way.
The Lionesses face Haiti in their opening fixture, before facing the rest of Group D – Denmark and China – in the group stage which you can listen to live across talkSPORT.
Despite the tournament being on the other side of the world, England fans are itching to see how the 2022 European champions will fare in the competition down under.
With the Euros and Women’s Finalissima trophies under their belts, expectations are high for Sarina Wiegman’s side.
However, the absence of key players due to a string of Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries leaves England light on experienced stars.
It’s anyone’s guess how the Lionesses will get on, with them preparing to face foes the United States, as well as other talented countries France and Germany.
Not to mention hosts Australia who recently ended England’s 30-game unbeaten run.
Here, talkSPORT.com looks at England’s chances and players to watch out for.
talkSPORT.com has a round up of former and current Lionesses’ takes on what will happen right here…
England’s key player
Beth Mead won Euro 22 with England last summer, writing her legend with her teammates on home turf.
The Arsenal forward is unable to participate in this year’s tournament due to injury.
But being part of her country’s meteoric rise under Wiegman leaves her well versed to give her take on who the Lionesses’ key player is this summer.
“I always think Keira Walsh is underrated,” she told talkSPORT. “I think she pulls the strings from midfield. She’s unbelievable and a really clever footballer.
“She things before a lot [of others] so that’s why I love playing with her. I’ll make a run and she’ll see it before I’ve even set off and things like that.
“So I think she’s pivotal and [helping] keep us tidy at the back whilst obviously going forward and making passes to the forward line. I think she’s underrated but she’ll be an important player for this squad.”
Former England star Fara Williams, who retired from international football in 2019, believes the Barcelona midfielder is Lionesses key to success, too.
Although she thinks Chelsea star Lauren James – sister of men’s defender Reece could make her name.
“The player I’m most looking forward to seeing, though, is actually Keira Walsh,” she said.
“She’s probably had the best season of her life. We saw how good she was at Man City. But actually this season in the Barcelona team she’s gone up another level and she’s exciting to watch.
“She looks in the best shape I’ve ever seen her. As a player she’s full of confidence obviously playing in the team she’s in at Barca so I think she’s key for this Lionesses team.”
Jill Scott, another star of Euro 2022, opted for a different Lioness.
“I love watching Millie Bright,” she told talkSPORT. “She’s a bit of an unsung hero.
“We know she’s had a bit of an injury going into this tournament but I know Millie and she’ll be ready. She’s got a heart of gold and she’s a winner as well.
“Sometimes defenders don’t get the plaudits in terms of the headlines because they’re not scoring the goals, but I think that Millie Bright is going to be key this tournament.”
Meanwhile, ex-England U21s star Lucy Ward also believes Bright’s availability will be key to their World Cup campaign too.
Former Lioness Eni Aluko, on the other hand, thinks it’s England’s front line that need to step up this summer and will be the most important stars for Wiegman’s side.
“You’re the favourites and everybody’s got to step up to that expectation,” she told talkSPORT. “For me, Alessia Russo has to have a big tournament, or Rachel Daly. I love the fact you have two strikers there who can lead the line.
“Rachel Daly gives you that sort of physicality, she runs, she’s fit, great in the air. Alessia is a bit more refined. Those two have to have a good tournament.”
Potential stumbling blocks
The absence of Mead, captain Leah Williamson and Fran Kirby through injury has been a concern for many fans in the build up to this tournament.
It’s unsurprising then that some former Lionesses believe that could be a problem for their chances of lifting the World Cup trophy.
Aluko admitted she’s unsure on how the squad’s defenders will cope given the talent some of their competitors have up front, particularly if Bright is not available.
“I do worry about our back line,” she said. “I often think if you’re an opposition against England, what do you see as a weak point for a team that’s just won the Euros? It’s always the back line for me.
“For me, Millie Bright, let’s pray she’s fit.”
Williams thinks an obstacle to success could be the missing names. “As a fan, I hope [we can win]. But if I’m being realistic in terms of the squad being depleted of key players, Fran Kirby being one, I think England have lacked that bit of creativity without her in the team.
“Obviously Leah Williams and Beth Mead are another two key players to the squad. Millie Bright is fighting fitness, she hasn’t had that much game time going into the tournament. She’s key she’s our captain for this tournament.
“I think we’re a little bit depleted. I think it’ll be a tougher task for us this year.”
Scott doesn’t see the injuries as detrimental, though.
“Injuries are all part of the game really,” she said. “We were lucky in the Euros that we didn’t have one injury which is mad to say and losing Leah, Beth and Fran is going to be a hit on the squad, you can’t deny that but it brings an opportunity for the younger players.
“I really feel like they can step up because they have some real talent in that team; Chloe Kelly, Lauren Hemp, Lauren James, Ella Toone, Alessia [Russo] – you can just see they’ve got so many goal threats going forward.
“I’m so excited to be heading out to Australia as a fan and I really feel like we can have a successful tournament.”
With a European championship trophy in the cabinet and defeating the reigning world champions the USA in October, a World Cup win should be next on the Lionesses’ checklist.
“I think the expectation and pressure now from the media will be even bigger than it was last year,” Williams said.
“I don’t think there was much pressure for the girls to go and win the home tournament, so I think there’s lots of things that make it more difficult to go and win this year.
“I’m a big England fan and I hope we can go all the way but realistically I think quarter finals is where I see the Lionesses falling a bit short.”
Meanwhile, Scott believes England will stand tall in the face of adversity.
“It brings pressure going into any tournament,” she said. “Obviously it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to a World Cup or a European championship.
“I feel like this is a bit of a new journey for the Lionesses with probably six or seven new faces from the Euros and I’m excited for them. Some of them are just starting their Lionesses journey.
“In terms of pressure, I think they’ll have the belief of winning the Euros and getting some big results this year, beating Brazil and the USA, but we always say that pressure is a good thing. It means that you’ve earned it, earned that moment and hopefully they can go out there and do their family and friends proud.”
Mead also believes the new Lionesses stepping up to the challenge.
“I mean I think there’s a lot of speculation around you know, us losing a lot of key players. “Captain Leah, Fran Kirby, Ellen White has retired, Jill Scott has, and you know they’re big players and names in the squad.
“So I understand people’s speculation. But ultimately the girls that are there right now, they’ve got a chance to step up and put a stamp on their own game, put a stamp on it for England.
“We’ve still go a pretty amazing team you know. We’re very lucky we’ve got a lot of depth at England. We’ve had quite a few unlucky injuries, but I have no doubt the girls will put themselves in a great position to play the best football at this tournament.
“Obviously we drew recently with Portugal but as long as we hit our peak when we hit the tournament I don’t anyone has anything to worry about in that sense.”
You can follow live commentary of the 2023 Women’s World Cup on the talkSPORT network, with our coverage kicking off on Saturday with England vs Haiti on talkSPORT at 10.30am