England got their Women’s World Cup campaign off to a winning start thanks to a 2-1 win over rivals Scotland.
Nikita Parris gave England an early lead from the penalty spot before Ellen White doubled the advantage just before half-time. Claire Emslie managed to pull one back but it was not enough to prevent defeat for Scotland.
But what did we learn from the game?
1. Nikita Parris x Lucy Bronze = Trouble
There may not be a better right-sided pairing at the 2019 Women’s World Cup than Nikita Parris and Lucy Bronze.
Going into the tournament, high expectations were placed on Parris, who had just had a wonderful season with Manchester City scoring 19 goals and recording six assists in 19 Women’s Super League games. The 25-year-old’s performances earned her a move to the best club team in the world, Lyon, where she will link up with Bronze after the World Cup – a worrying thought for the French team’s opponents.
Speaking before the World Cup, Bronze said of Parris: “We already play together for England down the right-hand side and have a good understanding.
“She is 25, the same age I was when I moved to France two summers ago and she’s won so much at home with City that now she wants to win the Champions League. She knows Lyon is the best place to do that.
“Nikita can develop her game and be with the best players in the world. The Champions League is now the draw for players in England and her move can be good news for England too.”
The England pair were devastating against Scotland on Sunday, not giving their opponents a moment of rest throughout. They combined to create three chances and completed six take-ons, with Parris’ five more than any other player on the pitch.
There was a short passage of play in the first half which saw both Bronze and Parris nutmeg opponents, with Erin Cuthbert and Nicola Docherty the unfortunate recipients.
And when her country needed her, Parris stepped up to emphatically dispatch her penalty into the top left corner, giving Lee Alexander no chance.
With these two in the side, Lyon may be looking at a fifth-consecutive Champions League.
2. Ellen’s White hot
One of the biggest decisions Phil Neville had to make to England’s World Cup opener was whether to start Ellen White or Jodie Taylor up front. He went with White, and the new Manchester City forward justified the faith.
White was in fine form for Birmingham City over the past two years, scoring 21 goals in 26 Women’s Super League appearances for the Blues, earning her a move to Man City.
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And, despite looking quiet in England’s warm-up games, White was quick to reassure Lioness fans that she had taken her goalscoring boots to France. The 30-year-old was a constant threat against Scotland on Sunday, lurking around the edge of the area. She thought she had scored her second World Cup goal midway through the first half, but her looping header was rightly disallowed for offside – cutting her trademark celebrations short.
But there would be no stopping her five minutes before half-time. It was a messy bit of defending from Scotland on the edge of their own area, with the ball falling to White. The forward proceeded to bend the ball neatly around Lee Alexander in the Scotland goal and into the back of the net. Out came the goggles and England were in control.
3. Cuthbert gives Scotland hope
Scotland were thoroughly outplayed in the first half, with England dominating, but one player was a beacon of hope for Shelley Kerr’s side.
Erin Cuthbert is only 20 but carries the hopes of a nation on her back and is arguably one of the best young footballers around Europe. There appears to be nothing the Chelsea forward cannot do, showing keen dribbling skills, power on the ball and an impressive aerial ability despite her relatively small stature.
She was largely frustrated in the first half, pushing high alone, but did fashion Scotland’s best chance on her own, capitalising on lax defending to send a first-time drilled shot just wide of the left post.
But after half-time it appeared her energy had infected the rest of her team-mates as Scotland came out looking like a different side. They pushed as a team and pretty much everything positive Scotland did passed through Cuthbert at some point. The only thing missing from Cuthbert’s performance was a goal, but she was there ready to support when Scotland scored for the first time ever in a World Cup through Emslie.
And should Scotland hope to get out of the group, they will have their own Braveheart ready to lead them into each fight.
4. Phil Neville gets it right when it matters
In the build up to the World Cup, England manager Neville received a lot of criticism for constant changes made to his starting XIs. There was a fear that the squad would not be allowed to gel ahead of their World Cup opener against Scotland.
It was a game England had been expected to win, though Neville was cautious of the Auld enemy dubbing it the “most difficult group game”.
But from the off on Sunday, the Lionesses worked well as a unit, putting pressure on the World Cup debutants, looking like a team ready to go all the way.
The right-sided pairing of Bronze and Parris worked wonders, White showed why she was picked over Taylor, and Jill Scott and Keira Walsh helped dominate the midfield.
And when Neville had to make changes, with Scotland applying heavy pressure, they were the right ones. England held firm towards the end and Neville, sporting his Gareth Southgate waistcoat, can only be proud of the way his team played.
5. New handball rules come into play
Although Parris buried her penalty confidently to give England the lead, there was some discussion over referee Jana Adamkova’s decision to point to the spot.
With England attacking on the edge of the Scotland box, Fran Kirby sent an attempted cross in, but it was stopped in its tracks a few yards later by Docherty’s outstretched arm.
Albeit not a deliberate handball, and despite the fact the ball had only traveled a short distance, it is deemed worthy of a penalty under the new laws which have come in this summer.
In this instance, the new laws state an accidental handball will result in a free-kick or penalty if a player’s hand or arm has made their body “unnaturally bigger” which Adamkova believes Docherty did. It may be harsh, but we will be seeing more of these penalties given in the future, especially with VAR in use.