A Georgia Stanway penalty gave European champions England a scrappy 1-0 win over Haiti to begin their Women’s World Cup title bid in unconvincing fashion on Saturday.
Played in front of over 44,000 fans at Brisbane Stadium, most of whom were supporting the English, Stanway’s 29th-minute penalty proved to be enough to just about see off a gutsy Haitian side.
England went into the match as firm favourites over Haiti, who are playing in their first World Cup.
But despite dominating territory and possession at times, the Lionesses struggled to put Haiti away and had to rely on some late brilliance from goalkeeper Mary Earps to secure all three points.
England, who have been embroiled in a dispute with the FA over bonuses in the lead-up to the tournament, are aiming to add the World Cup to the European crown they won at Wembley last year.
But they will have to step up a level for their next group games against Denmark and China.
They seemed somewhat nervous in the opening stages and turned the ball over too easily at times.
England’s midfield soon began to dominate and their front three were causing havoc in the Haiti box. Only some desperate defending kept the Lionesses at bay.
The deadlock was eventually broken in the 29th minute thanks to a penalty, an almost regular occurrence at this World Cup.
From a Chloe Kelly corner, Batcheba Louis leaped with her hands in the air and on review, the referee adjudged the ball had brushed her fingertips.
Stanway’s spotkick high and to the left was brilliantly saved by a diving Kerly Theus, but after another video review, the referee ruled the keeper had come off her line.
Stanway made no mistake the second time to give the Lionesses a deserved lead.
For all their dominance, the English looked vulnerable on the break and Haiti had a great chance five minutes into the second half through their brilliant midfielder Melchie Dumornay, whose powerful strike from outside the box was well saved by Earps.
The English tried to slow the game down in the second half and had by far the better chances — 19 shots on goal to six.
But their failure to take their opportunities almost came back to bite them late on when Roseline Eloissaint found herself one on one with Earps, whose superb save with her left leg denied Haiti a shock point.