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England vow to put pay row aside in World Cup quest

England pledged to put off-field dramas aside Friday as they look to back up their Euro 2022 triumph at the Women’s World Cup, starting with an opening match against “unpredictable” debutants Haiti.

The Lionesses’ build-up has been overshadowed by an ongoing row over bonuses for the players, with the team pausing talks this week to focus on the task ahead, starting in Brisbane on Saturday.

Coach Sarina Wiegman insisted stalled negotiations with the Football Association (FA) had not been a distraction.

“I haven’t noticed anything about that,” she said after being peppered with questions on the issue at a pre-match press conference.

“When we go on the pitch everyone is aligned and focused on football and I haven’t seen any other behaviour. So, yes, we are ready.”

England players issued a statement on Tuesday expressing “disappointment” that talks with the FA over bonus payments and commercial structures had not been resolved before the tournament.

They are reportedly upset by the FA’s failure to follow the lead of the Australian and American federations –- where collective bargaining agreements apply –- in paying bonuses on top of the prize money paid to players directly by FIFA.

“Obviously, it’s not a situation that everyone wants to be in,” said captain Millie Bright.

“As players, we are not just programmed to play football, sometimes we need to have these conversations.

“But we have a very professional group and football is always at the front of everything.”

“Our heads are now on the game, they always have been, and everything is on hold with those sorts of questions,” she added. “We will address this situation at a later date but for now it’s all about this tournament.”

Injuries to key players and a dip in form have also left England with plenty to ponder as they target winning the Women’s World Cup for the first time.

They will kick off on Saturday without regular captain Leah Williamson, Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner Beth Mead and Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, who were all ruled out of the tournament.

But in some welcome news, Bright was declared fit as she continues her return from knee surgery.

“When you’re surrounded by the best people, I was always confident in my recovery,” said the Chelsea defender.

“I’ve been given absolutely everything that I needed to be in this position and I’m super excited to be here.”

England’s results have been up and down since they won the Euros at a packed Wembley last year, for their first major trophy in women’s football. 

Their 30-game unbeaten run was ended by Australia in April and Wiegman’s team failed to break down Portugal in a 0-0 draw in their only warm-up friendly earlier this month.

Wiegman said they were well prepared, but were wary of a Haiti side who sealed their first-ever World Cup place by beating Chile in a playoff in February.

“They have a team that’s athletic with a very opportunistic transitional game and some unpredictability also,” she said. “We’re just going to try and play our own game.”

Denmark and China are also in the group.

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