England veteran Rachel Daly concerned by ACL issue at Women’s World Cup

England veteran Rachel Daly revealed she blocks out the frightening possibility of becoming a victim of the devastating injury crisis besetting women’s football and the World Cup.

Midfielder Keira Walsh was stretchered off with a suspected knee injury in the first half of the Lionesses’ 1-0 group-stage victory over Denmark on Friday, later appearing on crutches and sparking concern she might join England’s Beth Mead and Leah Williamson on a long list of players ruled out of the 2023 tournament with the same anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that disproportionately affects women.

There was no update on Walsh’s condition as of Saturday night in Sydney, three days before the Lionesses play China in Adelaide with a target of escaping Group D in top spot.

Daly said: “I don’t think you can think about it, for me, those three letters scare the absolute you-know-what out of me.

“Fingers, toes, everything crossed for Keira, but that’s football isn’t it, it’s tough, you have your highs and your lows and you just hope that everything is all right and she’ll be all right for the future. It’s a tough one but I hope she’s all right.

“I think losing anyone is tough but a player with the ability of Keira is a tough one to lose. She’s such an integral part of the way we play and it’s tough, but that’s why Sarina’s built a squad, we’ve got depth, and [Laura Coombs] came on and did really well. So it’s obviously disappointing and heart-breaking for Keira but hopefully it’s nothing too serious.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman did not make any changes to her starting XI during the Lionesses’ Euro 2022-winning campaign, but on Friday opted for two from England’s 1-0 tournament-opening win against Haiti.

Daly returned to left-back for England's second game of the World Cup

Daly returned to left-back for England’s second game of the World Cup (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Women’s Super League (WSL) Golden Boot winner Daly, who was named as a forward for this tournament, returned to left-back where she started every game of the European Championships, while Chelsea’s Lauren James got the nod on the left wing in place of Lauren Hemp.

It proved a prescient swap after Daly set up James’ first World Cup goal after six minutes against Denmark, that strike also ultimately enough to maintain England’s 100 per cent record and place them in prime position to finish top of Group D with a point against China.

Daly said: “I say it all the time but it’s an honour to put on this shirt whenever I can. I’ll play in any position. It’s not the one I’ve been playing in regularly for my club but it’s something that’s still familiar.

“I think I did all right, there’s tweaks I need to make on my game in that position but that’s OK, I learn from it, I’ll go and analyse it, I’ll fix it and move onto the next game. For me, it’s just getting onto the pitch, and doing what I can for the team.”

The 31-year-old Aston Villa striker also heaped praise on James, a decade her junior, hotly touted as the future of this England squad and backed by Blues boss Emma Hayes to be a vital force for the Lionesses in their quest for a maiden World Cup.

Daly said: “Yeah, LJ’s just a strength on her own, she’s phenomenal, and you saw what she can do, glimpses of what she can do. I can’t take any credit for anything she does, she’s just an unbelievable person and player.”

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