England boss critiqued for ‘strange’ half-time decision in ‘biggest shock’ of World Cup Final

Spain v England World Cup Final Review | Dub at the Cup

On the latest episode of Dub at the Cup, Liberty A-League midfielder Dylan Holmes joined KEEPUP presenter Teo Pellizzeri to dissect all the major talking points from Spain’s triumph over England in the 2023 Women’s World Cup final. Watch the full episode above.

With England trailing Spain 1-0 at half-time of the 2023 Women’s World Cup final, Lionesses head coach Sarina Wiegman rolled the dice.

On came Chloe Kelly and Lauren James: two substitutes the England boss hoped would change the game.

But it was the players hooked by Wiegman at the break that led to raised eyebrows: England’s equal-leading goalscorer at the tournament Alessia Russo, and 2023 Women’s Super League golden boot winner Rachel Daly.

By full-time, the dice that Wiegman had rolled at half-time had come up with snake eyes.

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There was sound reasoning behind the introduction of James and Kelly: two of England’s most dangerous attacking threats were more than capable of producing the moment of quality needed to get England back on level terms. That and a shift to a back four meant that one of the three central defenders/two wing-backs that began the game would have to make way.

Daly, a striker at club level with Aston Villa who bagged 22 goals in England’s top domestic league in 2022-23 to end the campaign as its top scorer, was used at left wing-back by Wiegman for the majority of the World Cup – and it was the striker-turned-defender who was sacrificed to make the new system work.

Russo, who had scored the quarter-final match-winner against Colombia and semi-final game-sealer against Australia, also made way.

In the hours after full-time, KEEPUP’s Teo Pellizzeri and Liberty A-League midfielder Dylan Holmes convened outside of Stadium Australia for the latest episode of Dub at the Cup, where together they questioned the half-time decision-making of Wiegman in World Cup final defeat to Spain.

“Let’s talk about England, because a lot of things didn’t work,” Pellizzeri said.

“Sarina Wiegman made two (half-time changes) – and they were big ones. She took off Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly at half-time. What were your thoughts when you saw her make that massive call?”

“I had a feeling she would make some sort of drastic change, and she did move to a back four which, unfortunately for Daly, meant one of the back five would come off,” Holmes replied.

“To have Lauren James on your bench, that’s your weapon to be able to introduce at half-time, and Chloe Kelly as well who has been fantastic this tournament as well. It really didn’t surprise me and I think it did inject a bit of life into this England team, but it wasn’t enough in the end.”

Pellizzeri continued: “The strange thing about this was: a lot of the debate in the tournament had been playing Daly up front, and potentially losing out to Russo in that position, but they took away the option to swing Daly up front later in the game. That was probably the thing that struck me as the biggest shock, and a lot of the reaction from the English press watching from overseas, and not watching in the stadium at half-time, was: ‘What is Sarina Wiegman doing taking off her top scorer?’

“It’s kind of like if England (men’s) took off Harry Kane in a World Cup final if you think about it like that. It didn’t work, did it? It wasn’t the profound change to the game state that they were looking for.”

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The substitutions produced a perplexed reaction from the English media.

Casey Stoney, former England captain and columnist for The Times wrote: “Sarina Wiegman has worked wonders with this team but if I’m being honest I didn’t understand the changes at half-time.

“You’re down 1-0 in a World Cup final and you take off Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly, the two players who can play as a No.9 and can get a goal. It meant we lacked that focal point when we should have been putting balls into the box or playing it long.”

Jamie Braidwood of the Independent lamented Wiegman’s decision to beak up the strike partnership of Russo and Lauren Hemp: “James and Kelly brought moments of improvement, but the truth is that England were at their most dangerous when Lauren Hemp and Russo were combining as a front two.

“Hemp’s switch to a central role took away the threat that was everywhere in the first half and left Wiegman searching for something else. On came Beth England. Up went Millie Bright. But this was a situation England could not overcome.”

On Dub at the Cup, Holmes pondered what Daly could have produced in the second half if Wiegman had elected to gamble on throwing her forward to find an equaliser instead of bringing her off to facilitate that formation switch.

“If you keep someone like Rachel Daly on, she’s scored in this tournament, she scored a lot of goals in the WSL over the last season, and to take her off, you limit yourself…. she may have been a really good one to keep on the field as long as possible,” Holmes said.

“She was the victim of a formation change, in all honesty.”