England expected. As one of the favourites to win the most anticipated and high-profile Women’s World Cup to date, and with a trophy already under their belts this year from the SheBelieves Cup, the stakes were high for their opening match of the tournament against Scotland.
England delivered. First-half goals by winger Nikita Parris, from the penalty spot, and forward Ellen White put Phil Neville’s team firmly in charge today in Nice and set them on their way to a 2-1 win, the first hurdle in their path to the final in Lyon on 7 July.
But there were caveats. The Lionesses’ opening goal derived from a controversial handball decision only awarded after consultation with the video assistant referee (VAR), and Scotland punished sloppy play to get back into the contest through Claire Emslie late in the game.
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“We’ve got to be relentless,” said Neville. “We want to be here for 37 days and to do that we’ve got keep driving the standard up. It starts with me. I think we thought it was going to be easy in the second half but it was a lesson that every World Cup game is going to be difficult.”
Fran Kirby won the contentious penalty in the 10th minute when her cross from the right struck Scotland defender Nicola Docherty’s raised left arm. That there was contact was not in doubt and, after taking time to watch a pitchside replay, official Jana Adamkova pointed to the spot.
It was the type of VAR penalty award that did for Moussa Sissoko and Tottenham in the Champions League final this month and that football fans are having to get used to. Despite a lack of obvious support, governing bodies Fifa and Uefa now favour a policy of strict liability.
Parris was untroubled by the injustice or otherwise and stepped up with the confidence and panache she exhibited all afternoon to plant her penalty high and to the left of Scotland goalkeeper Lee Alexander.
The 25-year-old joined Lyon last month after a stellar campaign for Manchester City that ended with FA Cup and League Cup winners’ medals and the Football Writers’ Association player of the year award. She could yet end her summer by lifting another trophy in her new home town.
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White’s reward for a tireless display leading England’s line came in the 40th minute, when Kirby won a challenge on the edge of the Scotland penalty area and the City striker stroked past the excellent Alexander first time with her left foot.
Scotland, ranked 17 places below England in 20th place, punished the Lionessess for losing impetus at two up. Erin Cuthbert shot inches wide just before half-time and Emslie made up for an earlier miss when she bundled in from close range after Lisa Evans’s driving run.