A packed out and raucous crowd at Old Trafford turned up to watch Sarina Wiegman’s England side open Euro 2022 against Austria on Wednesday evening.
Their opponents looked in very positive spirits and, despite never beating England before, would have been backing themselves to cause an upset.
Beth Mead started for the Lionesses along with fellow former SAFC player Lucy Bronze as they looked to start their campaign on a positive note.
Here’s how the action went down.
The first ten minutes were frenetic as you might have expected with neither side able to settle on the ball. Eventually, though, England were able to calm some nerves and dictate the play.
A lovely diagonal ball from Millie Bright found the run of Lauren Hemp - whose ball in couldn’t find Ellen White - and a mazy run by Georgie Stanway (who again couldn’t find a white shirt with the cut back) were the best moments of the early stages.
That was until the 16th minute when none other than BETH MEAD scored.
She broke into the box, received the ball over the top from Fran Kirby with a lovely bit of control and then deftly chipped the keeper. The Austrian defender looked to have cleared it off the line, but goal-line technology gave it and made it 1-0 to England.
Another ten minutes of England pressure followed the goal, with the Lionesses looking so confident on the ball and winning it back tenaciously in midfield. Ellen White had her first big opportunity after some fine work from Lauren Hemp (who’d have guessed) down the left, but the striker could only glance the header wide.
Any thoughts of England shrinking under the weight of expectation were dismissed by the way they played throughout the first half. The rare occasions that Austria did have the ball were snuffed out quickly, and some of the play building out from the back was sublime.
Still with only one goal in it, Austria continued to believe.
The visitors may have been second best throughout the first half but they have marshalled Ellen White pretty well. Hemp, operating from the right, found another great cross but again White could only direct the header wide.
Then, in stoppage time, a great chance fell England’s way and Hemp’s shot was well saved by the keeper.
England had broken into the box and Kirby’s square ball was poor, and so whilst it should have been 2-0 at half time, it wasn’t to be.
Austria started the second half well, clearly fired up by their half time team talk, but were unable to really trouble England in the early exchanges.
From England’s point of view, Hemp and Bronze continued to look bright but after ten minutes both sides had cancelled each other out. It’s important to remember at the last Euros Austria made it to the semi-finals and were only beaten on penalties, so it was no surprise really to see how well they performed.
On the hour mark, Austria had made the first substitution of the game - and that sub immediately clattered into an England player, perhaps lucky to avoid a booking.
Then, shortly after, Sarina Wiegman responded with three subs of her own - Chloe Kelly, Alessia Russo and Ella Toone for Fran Kirby, Ellen White and Beth Mead.
England had lost a bit of impetus and clearly the manager felt it was time to introduce some more energy. It had worked wonders for them in the warm-up games.
The subs did make an impact, particularly Toone, who operated slightly deeper than Kirby as part of a midfield three and really took control of the game for England.
The pressure led to another great opportunity, this time a free-kick was deflected and the ball dropped to Russo who tried to hit it on the turn but couldn’t get hold of it. Clearly, our finishing will need to improve throughout the rest of the tournament.
As the final ten minutes approached, England stopper Mary Earps was forced into making her first save of the evening - Austria’s Barbara Dunst ran at the defence creating some space on the edge of the box and took a curling shot that Earps was equal to.
That one goal cushion began to look slender as Austria came back into it, and a second goal would have been well appreciated - though, thanks to the efforts of Millie Bright at the back, England were well-protected and it would have taken some good play to break them down.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford began to get nervy as Austria continued to test England’s resolve, but then some great news came in the form of the match attendance - 68,871, a new record for the Women’s European Championships, and by some margin as well.
The final stages of the game saw Austria come forward more, but their efforts were continually repelled by the Bright-led defence.
Eventually, though, the referee did blow the final whistle.
England claimed the three points and Beth Mead stole all the plaudits for proving to be the difference on the night. England will be hoping for stronger performances as the tournament goes on, but that was just a case of ‘job done’, and the start they needed.