Jamaica and Haiti show gap is closing at this World Cup of the unexpected

<span>Photograph: Mark Baker/AP</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/RfuQrXj3aAZb8xdE2fWhXA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/916439d3510cf386d0a8e98bfca02f3f” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/RfuQrXj3aAZb8xdE2fWhXA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/916439d3510cf386d0a8e98bfca02f3f”></img></p>
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<p><figcaption><span>Photograph: Mark Baker/AP</span></figcaption></p>
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<p>It says a lot about the character of the players at this World Cup that teams such as Haiti and Jamaica are troubling supposedly superior opponents. Both sides have surmounted significant off-pitch problems but their extraordinary togetherness and collective competitiveness demonstrates the values these women embrace. They want to use their performances to have an impact on their nations for the better, and it shows.</p>
<p>In Haiti’s case they reached the tournament against a backdrop of the aftermath of the 2021 earthquake, enduring violent crime, political instability, cholera outbreaks and allegations of sexual abuse against Yves Jean-Bart, the former president of the football federation. Nicolas Delépine’s team cannot play home games and this perhaps explains their deceptively low Fifa world ranking of 53rd. I was not surprised to see Haiti play so well in losing 1-0 against England because the quality of the team’s recent displays has been camouflaged by some ostensibly disappointing results.</p>
<p><span>Related: </span>Five ways England can kickstart Women’s World Cup campaign | Suzanne Wrack</p>
<p>Against England they were sensible, adopting a defensive shape and fast counterattacking style that respected Sarina Wiegman’s side’s status as European champions and asked the Lionesses some awkward questions.</p>
<p>Delépine has some really good technicians in his team, with several of the squad playing in France’s top division. It helps explain how Haiti succeeded in isolating Keira Walsh in central midfield and reducing England’s No 10, Ella Toone, to near anonymity.</p>
<p>Athletic, confident and diligent, Haiti worked so hard whenever they lost the ball. They also read the game well and won a series of one-on-ones with unexpected ease. In disrupting Wiegman’s midfield they prevented England playing through Walsh. Their aggressive pressing and out-of-possession discipline severely restricted her passing options. Playing for Barcelona, Walsh will have become accustomed to enjoying more time and space but Haiti emphasised that, in Australia, she is going to have to work harder to create the room she needs.</p>
<p>With Toone still adjusting to starting in the No 10 role after previously being used largely as an impact substitute, England really missed the injured Fran Kirby and her ability to play between the lines.</p>
<p>They also needed to worry about the danger posed by Haiti’s rapid, potentially game-changing, transitions and the quality of individual players. Melchie Dumornay, who has just joined Lyon, is world class. It’s incredible to think she’s still only 19. I was also very impressed by Nérilia Mondésir and the goalkeeper, Kerly Théus. The latter may be only 5ft 4in but she’s extremely springy and was fantastic against England.</p>
<p>Talking of goalkeepers, it speaks volumes that, thanks to two world-class saves, Mary Earps was fundamental to England achieving a victory secured by Georgia Stanway’s retaken penalty.</p>
<p>Although Jamaica’s goalkeeper, Becky Spencer, had an exceptional game in their 0-0 draw with France, her teammates deserve enormous credit for a performance that mixed off-the-ball know-how with moments of attacking brilliance from Bunny Shaw. No one could have guessed that Jamaica have been embroiled in a long-running dispute with their national federation over a pronounced lack of resources and, in 2019, went on strike after being unpaid for nine months.</p>
<p>Hervé Renard’s France ranked among the pre-tournament favourites but Jamaica, rather than drop off, pressed aggressively, refusing to allow Renard’s players to establish any rhythm. They also defended crosses superbly. With Drew Spence and Vyan Sampson impressing in central midfield and Deneisha Blackwood brilliant at left-back, Lorne Donaldson’s side fully merited their moments of luck when France twice hit the woodwork.</p>
<p>Equally, the co-hosts New Zealand richly deserved their first World Cup win, a 1-0 triumph against Norway. Many people had expected a Norway side full of top-quality talents including Ada Hegerberg, Caroline Graham Hansen and Guro Reiten to really “show up” at this World Cup after their underachievement at Euro 2022.</p>
<p>Jitka Klimkova’s New Zealand subsequently came undone in losing to the Philippines but against Norway they shone both out of possession and in transition. It all left Barcelona’s Ingrid Engen so isolated in midfield that, after a game clinched by Hannah Wilkinson’s fine goal, she admitted feeling “like an island”. Norway were nullified and, once again, my old friend Ali Riley showed what a fantastic defender and great leader she is.</p>
<p>I also suspect that New Zealand’s players, like their Haitian and Jamaican counterparts, had done their homework. Part of the reason for the rising quality among once unfancied teams is the meticulous preparation done by so many of today’s players. Watching videos and dissecting your own game and your opponents’ game does wonders for, among other things, a player’s positioning.</p>
<p>Such attention to detail can help derail those Fifa rankings but, whatever the precise reasons, World Cup viewers are learning to expect the unexpected.</p>
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Nigeria celebrate after holding Canada, the Olympic champions, to a draw. Photograph: Morgan Hancock/EPA

If Nigeria’s goalless draw with Canada’s Olympic champions is a case in point, Ireland gave Australia quite a fright in front of more than 75,000 fans in Sydney, where the co-hosts needed Steph Catley’s penalty to secure a hard-fought win.

With Australia badly missing Sam Kerr, and Katie McCabe excelling for Ireland, it proved a pretty even match. Vera Pauw, Ireland’s manager, often courts controversy but her team play with real intensity in and out of possession and they really went after Australia. Crucially, Pauw understands her players; she knows what makes them tick and allows McCabe and co to express their attacking personalities.

Like Haiti, Jamaica, New Zealand and Nigeria, Ireland play without fear and want to show the world who they really are.

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