It gave a hundred minute glimpse of a 19-year-old blinder.
Mighty England’s 1-0 victory over tiny Haiti, taken on penalties twice in the 29th minute, became one of those occasional sporting events where someone on the non-winning side takes up all the memory bandwidth from the evening. That’s because Melchie Dumornay, an attacking – and attacking and attacking – midfielder from Mirebalais in central Haiti, looked so starry-eyed and polished that her age began to seem somehow miscalculated or misprinted.
“I’m trying to stay natural,” she said a few times during her copious postgame reflections, and that approach clearly helped her create commanding play after commanding play that caused so much of the trouble Haiti could cause with the possession volumes tilted against it in general. She created chances with her creativity and speed. She nicely fed through balls to her teammates. She marked English Keira Walsh for a silence. It started to seem like when something happened, you’d look for Haiti’s No. 6 in the middle of something, and then, well, you’d find her there.
Finally, in the 90th minute, she made a move and sent a ball up the left side for her to outplay defender Jessica Carter, forcing Carter to catch up and clear a corner which Dumornay took and curled right into the mouth of the goal where goalkeeper Mary Earps had to deal with it. With that, Dumornay finally exhausted all the options she lent the fight.
Operating among opponents who famously won Euro 2022, Dumornay seemed set to play in perhaps a third World Cup. She thrived in front of a crowd of 44,369 so England-heavy that England manager Sarina Wiegman felt it could have been England, in a stadium in the host city of the 2032 Olympics. She could have made witnesses the envy of supporters of French club Lyon, who she signed for in the spring after two seasons at Reims. She started looking huge enough on Saturday night that when she reached the mixed-zone interview area at about 5-foot-2, an untrained eye might have thought briefly: It’s her, isn’t it?
“For me,” Dumornay said, “it’s always a challenge to play against the best players … so I can challenge myself and see if I progress, if I progress in my game, so I can say tonight it’s not really bad, but I have a lot of work to learn because I’m young and I’m trying to progress,” by which she could have easily meant “move up.”
Melchie Dumornay vs England | #FIFAWWC
Dumornay with an absolutely gigantic performance against European champions. When she carried the ball it was purposeful, her positioning off the ball was incredible and she was unbeatable in duels.
What a way to advertise yourself! pic.twitter.com/ibzGdPZ8WG
— Yash (@Odriozolite) 22 July 2023
She repeated the thought that was just emphasized on the pitch, that Haiti’s The Grenadiers had not come all this way just to appear and sing with gusto their national anthem, “Le Dessalinienne.” She called it “an honor” to play in a World Cup, but said softly: “We have come here not to play just three games. We will try to go to the next stage, so we will try to do our best in the next two games.”
“I think the other two countries are really going to struggle with them,” Wiegman said, with “two” meaning Denmark and China (the other teams in Group D) and “them” meaning Haiti. “As we expected,” Wiegman said, “they are impressive, very direct and very strong on the counter-attack.”
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Such a counter-attack may have given her heart palpitations in the 81st minute when Dumornay sent a long ball across to Nerilia Mondesir, Mondesir arrived on the left of the box and sent a pass back into the middle, and fresh substitute Roseline Eloissaint burst forward and had a screaming chance. She got away from Millie Bright and fired her shot, forcing Earps into an almost frantic left-footed save.
It could have created a tie, which happened much earlier.
At the time, another VAR review of the first half showed the ball glancing off the fingertips of Haiti’s Batcheba Louis as Louis went for a ball with England’s Lucy Bronze. The referee awarded a penalty which Georgia Stanway took.
Stanway drove it left just as goalkeeper Kerly Theus dived to her right, and the dramatic save that resulted sent the Haitians scrambling toward Theus to cheer in a group hug. That cheerfulness soon gave way, however, as Theus soon stood at the goal with his hands on his hips, pudgy and ready to defend again. That’s because she had been off the line on her save, the rule itself being another case of the world’s hostility to goalkeepers.
Stanway went again and this time Theus scampered to her left as Stanway’s second ball went to the same corner as the first and rolled in easily. England had their first goal in their last four games and their run-up to this World Cup has been marred by three devastating injuries, including captain Leah Williamson.
From that 1-0 lead, however, a lively and often delightful match, where the lionesses dominated possession, but Theus made save after save after save. It gave Haiti space to confront and wonder, and Dumornay space to speak of hope for a country of 11.4 million suffering an ungodly amount of strife.
“It’s an honor for all my teammates,” she said, “and also the whole country. I know they’re really, really, really proud of us and they’re always going to support us. I know that. But we know they have a lot of frustration in front of the TV at that moment (the game), so we’re going to try to make them happy for the next two games.”
Then said the prodigy, who scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Chile that led to this sensational World Cup appearance, “It’s just the details, but I think if we can do it against England, we can do it against any team that comes in front of us.” Her words were filled with hope, while her tone sounded serious and, well, natural.