IAN HERBERT: The Lionesses start as they mean to go on with a Euro 2022 opening win over Austria, as they embark on a mission to embed women’s football in the national consciousness
- England sealed a 1-0 victory over Austria in their Euro 2022 group stage opener
- Arsenal attacker Beth Mead scored the only goal of the match at Old Trafford
- The Lionesses are being asked to help embed women’s football in the country
The opening celebration was, much like England football’s, measured, classy and free of unnecessary fireworks.
Some plumes of red, white and blue, a few flames and then young side who have so much that they say they want to prove, went about their business.
They are being asked to help embed women’s football in the national consciousness. No small task but they started as they mean to go on.
England sealed a 1-0 victory over Austria in their Euro 2022 opener at Old Trafford
Arsenal star Beth Mead (pictured) scored the only goal of the match in the 16th minute
The promotional dimension was, of itself, a masterpiece. The artwork depicting England’s players which has this week been beamed across the White Cliffs of Dover, proclaiming ‘You’ve never seen England like this’, adorned the side of Gary Neville’s Hotel Football, next to the stadium.
It was one of the first sights for many who approached.
There was more of the same at every approach route and the blue chip brands in the perimeter advertising slots underlined the clamour to be associated with this tournament and this team.
The Lionesses are being asked to help embed women’s football in the national consciousness
That is no small task, but England have started as they mean to go on with a win in the opener
‘When more of us play, all of us win,’ states one of the most prominent.
The fan zone packed with fans singing ‘Football’s coming at home’ at 7pm was not a football supporting environment as those who steeped in a lifetime of men’s game have come to know it.
This old place have never before bounced to the rendition of Whitney Huston before kick-off, either.
But it felt like a less raucous, less alcohol-driven environment. A safer one, it should be said.
There were more parents with children. There was no abuse of national anthems in a stadium packed to a 74,500 capacity. It was a different kind of football place.
Old Trafford felt like a less raucous, less alcohol-driven environment for the Lionesses match
Old Trafford was filled with parents and children and there was no abuse of national anthems
The spirit of celebration had its limits, though, because there’s a deadly intent to this England team.
You only had to observe the relentless scrutiny of manager Sarina Wiegman, to intuit that.
She’s not a shouter and sets foot in the technical area infrequently, so in that sense she, too, does not conform to the game expect it to be.
Hers is a philosophy that, having imparted the knowledge, her players have the intelligence to put it to use.
It was fitting that Chelsea’s Fran Kirby had such a significant part in the way England began so strongly, prompting the high pitched squeals of encouragement from the substantial number of young supporters.
Chelsea and England star Fran Kirby (pictured) picked out Beth Mead that carved out a goal
Kirby‘s technical genius has made her arguably the player of her generation but illness and injury have meant her best days have not been in an England shirt.
It was she who had the vision to pick out and find Beth Mead with the 15-yard diagonal pass that carved out the first goal.
And it was fitting that Mead scored it. Those who cannot acceptance the emergence of a vibrant women’s game like to declare that the male equivalent is ‘better’, though Mead’s vision, intuition and quick feet deconstruct that notion.
Her goal – bringing the ball under control with her chest and clipping it over Manuela Zinsberger in the split second available to her – befitted the kind of football with which England hope to inspire in the 25 days ahead.
The flat pass that Kirby played across the area for Lauren Hemp moments before half time was fractionally over-hit, bouncing to leave the 21-year-old struggling to connect with it.
But it was a night when Hemp and her young contemporaries, Chloe Kelly and Georgia Stanway, revealed themselves as players who carry no fear.
Lauren Hemp (pictured) and fellow youngsters Chloe Kelly and Georgia Stanway impressed
Time will tell if the team deliver the women’s game to the level that the United States, the standard bearers, have long known.
For some here, it was a very formative introduction to the game. They held up white cards bearing the word ‘goal’ when Mead’s vital strike. Mexican waves struck up periodically.
Wiegman certainly demonstrates an audacity that can take them far. Unhappy with the intensity of the team on the hour mark, she changed three of her from four simultaneously.
They did not set the stadium alight as the game wore on and Mary Earps was called on to make a vital, fingertip save, leading Wiegman to indicate late last night that she thinks her team can perform better than this.
‘More can be done,’ to cite one of the perimeter slogans. But this was the beginning England had wanted and needed.
England did not set the stadium alight and will be expect to perform to a higher standard
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