England opened their World Cup campaign with a narrow victory over rivals Scotland in a game where they showed glimpses of their potential.
After an open start, Nikita Parris scored from the spot on her World Cup debut after the penalty was awarded following a video assistant referee review.
Ellen White doubled the advantage before the break as Phil Neville’s team dominated the first half.
But Scotland, making their World Cup debut and ranked 17 places below England at 20th in the world, took advantage as their opponents eased off in the second half when Claire Emslie slotted in from close range after Steph Houghton’s poor pass.
Although they could not muster an equaliser, Shelley Kerr’s side vastly improved on their performance in the 6-0 defeat against England at Euro 2017, before the Scotland head coach was appointed.
And their tenacity should hold them in good stead in their remaining Group D games when they face Japan, ranked seventh in the world, and then Argentina, who are 37th, as they seek to reach the knockout stages.
For England, it was a mixed performance, which summed up their warm-up results coming into the tournament.
They looked confident all over the pitch in the first half after head coach Neville named what looked like his strongest starting team.
But after the break they fell short of producing the quality which Neville believes can take them to their first World Cup title, having finished third at the 2015 edition.
The result will be a relief for the former Manchester United and England defender, who is taking part in his first World Cup as a player or manager, and he will have been impressed by the performances from White, Parris and Lucy Bronze.
However, he will also know that similar hesitancy against more fancied nations could prove costly later in the tournament.
England impressive but with work to do
England’s superb first-half showing centred around the decision to award them a penalty via VAR after Fran Kirby’s cross hit Nicola Docherty’s arm.
It was a call that was booed by Scottish fans, but former Scotland winger Pat Nevin said on BBC Radio 5 Live that it was a “definite” spot-kick, and it was hard to argue.
England had lost two of their four warm-up games but suddenly the Lionesses were oozing confidence and could have doubled their lead within 10 minutes as they piled pressure on the Scottish defence.
Their mood was summed up by a flowing move in which Parris nutmegged Docherty, a piece of skill which had the England fans in the 13,188 crowd purring.
Kirby fired wide from 18 yards, while White drew a superb save from Lee Alexander, before her header was ruled out for offside.
White, who recently moved to Manchester City, was not to be denied before the break though and when Kirby caught Scotland skipper Rachel Corsie in possession, the forward finished precisely for her 29th England goal.
It proved a telling lead and showed the danger that England possess, particularly down the right where Parris and Bronze menaced Docherty, who was eventually withdrawn.
Their failure to add more goals made this a more edgy game than Neville would have wanted, but he will be pleased to get what he called the “toughest group game” out of the way, and focus on the next game against Argentina, who are unlikely to provide as stern a test.
Scotland show signs they can progress
Kerr’s side came into this game after an unbeaten run of five games.
With some of their best players back after missing the same fixture at Euro 2017, they gave England a real test.
Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert, who played up front on her own, was key to a thrilling start and proved Scotland’s best outlet on the counter attack. The 20-year-old could have pulled a goal back but fired wide shortly after White had made it 2-0.
But the youngster was not downhearted and combined with right-winger Emslie, and midfielder Kim Little, as they kept the England defence on their toes.
Lisa Evans also had a chance to score before Emslie’s reply, but lost control of the ball in the box.
There was certainly a swagger about Kerr’s side, who have nine players in their squad who play in the FA Women’s Super League in England, the only fully professional league in Europe.
Their fitness did not seem to drop, and while they could not find an equaliser, Kerr and her team will be hugely encouraged they can reach their target of the knockout stages, particularly as in some cases three teams from a group will progress.
Player of the match – Ellen White (England)
‘We’ve got to be relentless’ – what they said
England boss Phil Neville: “I was pleased with the result. The first game is always the most difficult game but we set certain standards and the players know we need to keep meeting those standards.
“If we don’t, we get second half performances like we just got. We’ve got to be relentless now.
“I think at 2-0 in this heat, we thought it was going to be easy in the second half. It’s a lesson that every game in this World Cup is going to be difficult.”
Scotland boss Shelley Kerr: “We know we need to win one game, it doesn’t have to be the first game, even if it would have been nice.
“At a top competition like the World Cup you need to scrutinise yourself to the max, there were a lot of positives for us in the second half though.”
A first since 1995 – the stats
- England won their opening match of a Women’s World Cup tournament for the second time ever and the first time since 1995.
- Nikita Parris’ opening goal in this match was her 13th for England, but the first from the penalty spot.
- Ellen White has scored a goal in each of her past three international appearances for England against Scotland.
- Karen Carney won her 141st cap for England in this match, overtaking Alex Scott’s total of 140 caps for England women. Only Fara Williams (170) has more caps for England women.
- Both Jill Scott and Karen Carney appeared in their fourth Women’s World Cup for England – more than any other players in the history of the competition for the Lionesses.
England are in Le Havre on Friday (20:00 BST) where they face Argentina – the lowest-ranked country in Group D – while Scotland are in Rennes on the same day to play Japan (14:00).