But World Cup matches aren’t won on paper, as the Caribbean nation matched the Lionesses almost every step of the way in the sides’ opening match, eventually succumbing 1-0 only after Georgia Stanway scored from a retaken penalty.
Several impressive saves from Haiti goalkeeper Kerly Theus held the scoreline to just one goal difference, despite England mustering 19 shots on goal, 10 of them on target.
Late on, Haiti even had a chance to equalize but two brilliant saves in quick succession from England goalkeeper Mary Earps kept her side ahead, as the Lionesses ultimately ground out a scrappy victory.
“They challenged us,” England’s goalscorer Stanway told broadcaster ITV afterwards.
“They were very dangerous on the counter attack, so that’s something we’ll work on in training this week. Mary came up with a big save and everybody played their part. Moments like that are why she’s a top keeper. The most important thing is that we’ve got three points.”
Haiti defied expectations from the opening exchanges, engineering the most promising early chance of the game when Roselord Borgella scampered through the England defense before skewing her effort narrowly wide of the goalpost.
England continued to press, seeing a potential penalty ruled out by VAR and forcing the first of many brave saves from Theus.
But on 25 minutes, a VAR check yielded a penalty for England following a Haiti handball in the box. Initially, Stanway’s penalty attempt was spectacularly saved by Theus, but when the Haitian goalkeeper was judged to have moved forward off her line, the penalty was retaken and Stanway made no mistake with her second chance.
“I was just focused on the ball and the situation,” Stanway added.
“The first penalty was a very, very good save, so credit for that but obviously she was off her line. I was tempted to change sides, but you’ve got to confident in your strategy. There’s a process I go through and I stuck to that.”
Despite taking the early lead, England could not capitalize and struggled to break down Haiti’s defense, while it was only Earps’ key interventions at the other end that prevented Haiti from equalizing.
“It was a very hard game, I’m very happy with the three points,” England manager Sarina Wiegman told ITV. “They were very unpredictable, very transitional. That’s what they showed and we struggled with that. We did create chances but we lost the ball and then they were gone. That was hard for us.
“We want to finish our chances. We did it with the penalty which was good because the win is the most important thing.”
A thrilling finish
Meanwhile, in the other opening Group D match, Denmark defeated China 1-0, taking the lead in thrilling fashion in the last minute of regulation time when substitute Amalie Vangsgaard – having been on the pitch less than five minutes – headed home from a Pernille Harder corner.
There was still time for some more late drama in the six minutes of added time as China almost equalized, but the ball bobbled off the woodwork and was scrambled clear. The goal wouldn’t have counted however, with multiple Chinese players offside.
The last minutes changed the complexion of a game that had been destined to end in a scoreless draw, as both teams struggled to find an incisive edge.