England forward Beth Mead remains highly unlikely to recover from an ACL injury in time to make it to the 2023 Women’s World Cup this coming summer.
Mead, who was top scorer and won Player of the Tournament at Euro 2022, suffered the long-term injury during a WSL game for Arsenal in November.
Only weeks later, the Gunners put their support behind her with a new contract.
The typical recovery time for an ACL injury, which varies significantly depending on the individual circumstance is 6-12 months and occasionally more. Even at the lower end of that timeframe, Mead would have struggled to be ready in time for the start of the World Cup on 20 July.
Arsenal teammate Vivianne Miedema suffered the same injury less than a month after Mead and fairly quickly ruled herself out of World Cup contention with the Netherlands.
Mead’s chances of getting there were never quite so black and white. But, less the four months out from the tournament, England coach Sarina Wiegman gave the clearest update yet that the Ballon d’Or runner-up is highly unlikely to be at the World Cup.
“She is not in our plans right now, but if a miracle happens, we’ll see,” the Lionesses boss said upon naming her squad for the April international break.
There is also ‘concern’ about Fran Kirby’s fitness after hardly playing so far in 2023.
Wiegman admitted that, while the door isn’t closed, there are unlikely to be many changes between now and when she names her final World Cup squad – it was a similar situation last year in the build up to Euro 2022 when it became clear a few months out who 95% of the players would be.
“We wouldn’t expect much change, but you never know what happens,” she said.
Despite pleas from national team managers, Wiegman included, FIFA rejected calls to increase the size of World Cup squads to 26 players.
That ends the temporary measures introduced to help accommodate Covid-19 issues and protect player welfare seen in use at Euro 2020 and the recent men’s World Cup, meaning only 23 players can be named by those countries heading to Australia and New Zealand this summer.
Wiegman picked 25 players for her April squad. Two would have to be cut from that number before the World Cup, although one will be a goalkeeper after four were chosen this month.
Spaces have opened up since Euro 2022 due to Ellen White and Jill Scott both retiring. Demi Stokes has also dropped out after falling out of favour at club level. Lotte Wubben-Moy and Nikita Parris are doubts after being overlooked so close to the World Cup, while Kirby and Mead’s fitness issues will present at least one more space to fill.
Bethany England was another surprising omission from the April squad, but then Rachel Daly, who has scored 13 times in the WSL this season, is finally being regularly picked as a forward after starting at left-back throughout the Euros last summer.
It also feels to challenging now for midfielder Katie Zelem, who narrowly missed out on a place at Euro 2022 and impressed at the Arnold Clark Cup, and striker Ebony Salmon to work their way back into the fold after surprising April snubs.
Katie Robinson and Jess Park are both relatively new additions to the squad and offer plenty of energy and attacking variety that could prove crucial in a tournament setting, while Lauren James is a shoo-in for her first major tournament as a result of her form at Chelsea.
Predicted 23-player England squad for 2023 Women’s World Cup
Goalkeepers: Mary Earps (Man Utd), Hannah Hampton (Aston Villa), Ellie Roebuck (Man City)
Defenders: Millie Bright (Chelsea), Lucy Bronze (Barcelona), Jess Carter (Chelsea), Niamh Charles (Chelsea), Alex Greenwood (Man City), Maya Le Tissier (Man Utd), Esme Morgan (Man City), Leah Williamson (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Laura Coombs (Man City), Jordan Nobbs (Aston Villa), Georgia Stanway (Bayern Munich), Ella Toone (Man Utd), Keira Walsh (Barcelona)
Forwards: Rachel Daly (Aston Villa), Lauren Hemp (Man City), Lauren James (Chelsea), Chloe Kelly (Man City), Jess Park (Everton), Alessia Russo (Man Utd), Katie Robinson (Brighton)