Group D: ENGLAND 2-1 SCOTLAND
England held on to three points in Nice despite a resurgent Scottish second half display. On a day where VAR was prevalent in the officiating of all the games played, England were awarded a rather fortunate handball decision on 12 minutes with Nikita Parris converting from the spot. Ellen White made it two before half time latching on to a loose ball in the box and curling past Lee Alexander. The Scots forged their way back into the match in the second period against a tiring England side and Claire Emslie got one back with just over ten minutes to play, but the Lionesses held on to secure an all-important win.
An enthusiastic crowd of just over 13,000 watched both teams start at a frenetic pace with the ball moving quickly from end to end without troubling either keeper.
The contentious VAR check was called in the 12th minute for a potential handball after Fran Kirby’s cross was blocked by Nicky Docherty. Replays showed that the ball had struck the defender’s arm and, a full two minutes later, Parris smashed her penalty kick into the top right corner.
The goal seemed to knock the confidence out of the Scots and England started to make chances at will with Lucy Bronze, Nikita Parris and Jill Scott setting the tempo. Fran Kirby fired wide from Ellen White’s layoff, before keeper Alexander got down well to her left to deny White, following some good skill from Bronze on the right. Keira Walsh picked out White in the box but her looping header was ruled offside.
Scotland tried to get themselves off the ropes. Caroline Weir’s swirling free kick just needed a touch but eluded everyone in the English six yard box. Erin Cuthbert and Kim Little combined well to fashion a chance for Emslie but she shot straight at Karen Bardsley.
Alexander was sharp off her line to deny Ellen White moments later and the Scottish keeper stood firm again on 33 minutes, saving Beth Mead’s shot with her legs after Scott and Kirby worked the ball quickly from right to left.
After another VAR review which this time favoured Shelley Kerr’s side, Scott played in the tireless White but her weak effort was saved low to the keeper’s right. The Lionesses’ forward made amends on 40 minutes latching on to Alex Greenwood’s pass – after Scotland had squandered possession – and curling a fine left footed strike around the keeper.
It was a blow just before half time and the Scottish forwards tried to wrestle some of the initiative back with a quick reply. Kim Little picked Keira Walsh’s pocket on the edge of the box but the onrushing Erin Cuthbert shot wide.
England had the ball in the net within the opening 30 seconds of the restart. Parris fed White who squared for Mead to convert. Another correct off-side decision. How different the second half could have looked had White held her run in behind the Scottish back line.
Within a minute Cuthbert had Millie Bright beaten all ends up in a foot race that caused the England defender to stumble and injure her arm. When Abbie McManus replaced the Chelsea player, Scottish head coach Shelley Kerr saw an opportunity to push Kim Little closer to Cuthbert and bring on pacey Manchester United full back Kirsty Smith to try and turn the Lionesses round more. Little played Emslie into the box but she was caught in two minds and shot tamely at Bardsley.
Phil Neville’s team were starting to look tired, weathering a gathering storm of Scottish pressure. Mead visibly cramped up and England’s crisp passing of the first half became a distant memory as the Scots started getting joy down both wings. What they couldn’t do, though, was fashion a clear goalscoring opportunity.
On 70 minutes, during a brief respite, the Lionesses almost took the game away completely. Scott headed Greenwood’s corner back into the six yard box White volleyed goalward. Alexander was once again equal to the task saving brilliantly to her left.
Scotland kept probing with Smith and Emslie causing England problems out wide. A good interchange between Cuthbert, Little and Lisa Evans gave Emslie a chance but her quality let her down.
But the newly signed Orlando Pride winger got the reward for her efforts on 78 minutes. Steph Houghton’s loose pass was picked off by Evans and she located Emslie in space to find a way past the England keeper with the help of a deflection.
This was the moment for the Scots to press home their superiority and grab a point for their second half performance. But like their opponents, they too faltered in the heat of the French Riviera and were unable to trouble Bardsley again. Neville called on substitutes Georgia Stanway and Karen Carney to freshen up midfield and retain the ball better, dropping Jill Scott deeper to cut off the supply to the Scottish forwards. Job done, just…
A popular narrative developing across the media following this match is that England ‘won by VAR’, and that they were lucky to beat the ‘plucky’ Scots. Indeed, many of the post-match comments from within the camp allude to England’s second half performance not being good enough, including those of Head Coach Phil Neville.
“I thought we were sensational in the first half. We got a bit leggy in the second half. The first game is always the most difficult game, but we set certain standards and the players know we need to keep meeting those standards. If we don’t, we get second half performances like we just got. The Scottish goal shook us back into life and we kept the ball better.”Phil Neville, England Head Coach
But for fully an hour of this match England were dominant and only Lee Alexander’s brilliant performance in goal kept the score down. While this may be Scotland’s first World Cup appearance, their first eleven was replete with players who currently play in or have played for Women’s Super League teams. They were never just going to be rolled over.
England didn’t need to win the tournament today. They needed to win a group game against a tough and highly motivated opponent. There were some below par performances, but looking to beat England with the stick of ‘who’s going to be frightened by this display?’ is counterproductive. Firstly, Bronze and Parris were complete terrorists down the right wing in the first half. Alex Greenwood got forward well on the left, Jill Scott was running the midfield and Ellen White caused problems for the entire 90 minutes. There were plenty of positives. Delivering these standards consistently and under increasing pressure is Neville’s challenge. That’s tournament football.
Fran Kirby looked off colour with poor passing and decision making. She will know that Georgia Stanway is breathing down her neck after today. Beth Mead and Keira Walsh seemed to be struggling with fatigue in the second period, and Millie Bright was substituted with an arm injury that is now being assessed for severity. Bright has been the best of Steph Houghton’s central defensive partners, so a quick recovery would be a boost to England’s tournament prospects.
“I don’t think we played particularly well in the first half, but I’ve got to give England credit. They played with intensity and put us under pressure in the right areas and got their two goals. I think we came out in the second half and we showed what we’re capable of.”Shelley Kerr, MBE, Had Coach Scotland
For their part, the Scots should take a lot of confidence from this match. There is nothing to frighten them in the group and their front four can cause anybody problems.
Player of the match: Lee Alexander, Scotland (made a Scotland comeback possible with a string of good saves).
Day 3 Round Up:
Group C: AUSTRALIA 1-2 ITALY
Italy came back from a goal down to secure a surprise win against Australia in the last minute of stoppage time. Barbara Bonansea took advantage of keeper Lydia Williams’ indecision at a free kick to head in at the back post sparking massive celebrations on and off the pitch.
The Matildas took the lead on 22 minutes. Sam Kerr was bundled over by Sara Gama in the box and got up to take the spot kick. Laura Giuliani saved it but Kerr was on the rebound quickly and put Australia 1-0 up.
Bonansea equalised in the 56th minute after seizing on a heavy touch from experienced centre back Clare Polkinghorne. The Italian playmaker rounded the defender and curled the ball into the far corner. Bonansea had earlier converted a one-on-one opportunity which VAR took a full two minutes to disallow.
The winner came on the back of a concerted period of Italian pressure during which Daniela Sabatino had another goal ruled out. As the match looked to be heading for a draw Cernoia’s pacey dead ball delivery from the right flank evaded everyone except Bonansea and she made no mistake.
Player of the match: Barbara Bonansea (involved in all Italy’s big moments)
Group C: BRAZIL 3-0 JAMAICA
Striker Cristiane played ‘party pooper’ in Jamaica’s first ever World Cup match, scoring a hat trick to get Brazil off to the perfect start.
This mismatch could have been so much worse for the Reggae Girlz had it not been for an inspired goal-keeping performance by American born Sydney Schneider. The 19-year old made a string of excellent saves including a penalty stop from Andressa.
Brazil took the lead on 15 minutes when Cristiane headed in Andressa’s cross from the left. The winger then failed to capitalise on a dubious first half penalty call with Schneider diving to her right and holding on.
The Seleção doubled their lead early in the second period. The highly watchable Debinha won the ball in midfield, found Andressa on the right and she squared for Cristiane to slide in at the far post.
Cristiane’s hat-trick was completed on 64 minutes from a direct free-kick. Her left-footed strike over the wall was pitch perfect and, though Schneider got fingertips on it, she could only push the ball onto the underside of the bar and in.
Player of the match: Cristiane (Scored her eighth hat-trick for Brazil)