NICE — England opened its 2019 Women’s World Cup campaign with a narrow 2-1 win over Scotland on Sunday.
England took a comfortable two-goal lead at halftime, but as Scotland found some tempo, England found itself on the backfoot. Claire Emslie’s goal with 11 minutes left made it a nervy finish.
It was a case of job done for England, while Scotland will have taken heart from its second-half showing.
Here are five takeaways from the match:
England’s second-half malaise will cause concern.
England was clear favorites heading into its World Cup opener and looked to be sailing at halftime up 2-0. England was causing all sorts of difficulty for Scotland and made the possession count through Nikita Parris’ penalty and Ellen White’s curling finish. And when it opened the second half with another goal, the game looked to be over.
But Beth Mead’s strike was correctly chalked off for offside, and from there Scotland got a foothold and made possession, territory and some England sloppiness count through its 79th-minute goal. The heat in Nice would have some impact, but England lost possession far too often, and also some of its organization when Millie Bright went off in the 55th minute through injury.
England manager Phil Neville said postmatch he was delighted with the win but highlighted the need to address the team’s drop-off in the second half.
England’s threat down the right will rival any.
The manner in which the superb Lucy Bronze and the lethal Parris linked up down England’s right wing will rival any combination in this competition. They were both fantastic as they kept Nicola Docherty on her toes and caused all sorts of difficulty for the Scottish defense. England will need to be wary of any counterattacks, as early on Scotland managed to exploit the gap left by the marauding Bronze, but they combined brilliantly.
The two were teammates at Manchester City and will be again next season, with Parris joining European champions Olympique Lyonnais. Parris, in her first World Cup, is the team’s prankster, putting salt in manager Neville’s tea, and she comes into this competition in a rich spell of form. The emphatic way in which she dispatched her penalty shows the confidence with which she is playing.
England copes with the pressure.
England came to this World Cup with a clear aim: to come away from this competition as winners. There was no apology for this bold aim, with one of Neville’s pre-tournament challenges to balance criticism and praise for his players. He has been hard on his players, and before the tournament Steph Houghton and Mead reflected on the times they received some brutal honesty from Neville. While it has helped them grow closer together, even they are focused on the bigger picture.
Neville also challenged this group to deliver on the legacy left by the previous generation — players like Alex Scott, Kelly Smith and Casey Stoney. There are towering aims hovering over this group, and with the squad announcement going out to 170 million people, there was always the danger pressure. But England will be happy to get the three points on the board.
Scotland should make the knockout stages.
Once Scotland found some tempo in the second half, it grew as a team and illustrated the attacking threat seen in its warm-up win over Jamaica. Kim Little is one of the world’s best players and started to see more of the ball after a quiet first half, while Erin Cuthbert is sharp. They should take heart from this and push on. Expect them to make the knockout stages.
VAR gets the calls right.
The handball call in the first half to give England its penalty was not a popular decision, but under the new FIFA laws it was correct. The law dictates that on any occasion “the ball touches a player’s hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally bigger,” then it is a free kick/penalty. Unfortunately for Nicola Docherty, that criteria was ticked off when Kirby’s drilled cross struck her arm. Unpopular, yes, but to the letter of the law, the correct call.
“We’ve had two talks from referees, and both said that was going to be a penalty,” Neville said. “We’ve asked for VAR to get the right and correct decisions, and it got us off to a really good start.”