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Women's World Cup: Haiti goalkeeper Kerly Theus stands tall against England

England's Alessia Russo competes for the ball with Haiti's goalkeeper Kerly Theus during the Women's World Cup Group D soccer match between England and Haiti in Brisbane, Australia, Saturday, July 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Katie Tucker)
England's Alessia Russo competes for the ball with Haiti's goalkeeper Kerly Theus. Photo: AP

Goalkeeper Kerly Theus, who stands at just 5ft 4in tall, was 11 when, in 2010, a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless in Haiti.

Theus, living in the capital Port-au-Prince at the time, was one of those forced to live in a tent, while several months later a cholera epidemic killed around 10,000 people.

"Everybody lost their homes, we had to live in a tent for a couple of months," she told BBC Sport in a recent interview.

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"I was lucky, I didn't have any direct family who passed away. But I remember losing friends in the neighbourhood who I used to play football with on the streets.

"I miss those moments. It was a traumatic period at my age. That's what it is. I don't really talk about it much."

On Saturday, Theus, who never planned to be a goalkeeper, produced a superb Women’s World Cup performance in goal, making ten saves as England ground out a tight 1-0 victory over the unfancied Haitians, ranked outside the top 50 in the Fifa rankings.

Haiti goalkeeper Kerly Theus (right) catches a high ball ahead of England's Rachel Daly (left) during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023, Group D match at Lang Park, Brisbane. Picture date: Saturday July 22, 2023.
Kerly Theus gets ahead of England's Rachel Daly during the Women's World Cup match. Photo: PA

Georgia Stanway’s retaken first-half penalty was enough to earn England victory over the World Cup debutants in their Group D opener at Brisbane Stadium.

Theus produced a brilliant save from Stanway’s initial shot, flinging herself to the right before she was adjudged to have gone off her line too early.

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For a fleeting moment, there was a joyful sight as Theus’ team-mates engulfed her by her right post before VAR intervened and the penalty was retaken.

The Lionesses, the European champions, dominated the second half, but were either denied by Theus — who leapt high to tip an Alessia Russo header over the bar — or let down by their own finishing.

Brisbane, Australia. 22nd July, 2023. Kerly Theus of Haiti celebrates with team mates after saving a penalty shot of Georgia Stanway of England, which was later overturned during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 soccer match between England and Haiti at Brisbane Stadium in Brisbane, Saturday, July 22, 2023. (AAP Image/Darren England) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY Credit: Australian Associated Press/Alamy Live News
Kerly Theus of Haiti celebrates with team mates after saving the initial penalty shot of Georgia Stanway. Photo: Australian Associated Press/Alamy Live News

Haiti came close to equalising more than once, including a late second-half chance denied at the last by England goalkeeper Mary Earps’ outstretched foot.

Haiti had sealed their place at the Women's World Cup courtesy of a memorable play-off victory over favourites Chile in February.

Their performance against England, underpinned by 24-year-old Theus’ exploits, has now given the Caribbean nation extra belief that they can reach the knock-out phase in the tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Theus had said before the tournament: “I’ve been to tournaments where people said ‘Haiti? What’s that?’ We want the world to know about Haiti and the talent we have.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman said after their opening three points in Brisbane: "Lots of credit for Haiti for a first time in the World Cup and having a performance like that.

"I think the other two countries (in the group, Denmark and China) are going to really struggle with them, but of course that’s not our problem. I’m just really happy that we got the win.”

Watch: Ex-coach Powell rates England’s chances