England kicked off their Euro 2022 campaign with a narrow win over Austria at Old Trafford. What did we learn about Sarina Wiegman’s side from their opening game?
England shake off early nerves to get job done
The Lionesses had been expected to race past Austria and open their Euro 2022 tournament in style.
In front of a record crowd, and in the biggest game of some of their players’ careers, perhaps that was too much to expect.
Certainly, the reality of the cut and thrust of major tournament football and Sarina Wiegman’s first experience of it in charge of her adopted nation was very different from how the two sides had appeared on paper.
Even the Austrian press were braced for a commanding home win. But in the opening 15 minutes, the visitors took the game to their hosts, unbound by the pressure and weight of expectation the vast majority of the 67,000-strong crowd cast on Wiegman’s side.
Beth Mead’s lobbed opener was around the moment England finally began to reproduce the kind of performances we’ve seen under the last year of this regime, and they would have surely doubled their lead before the break had Fran Kirby not mistimed a pass for an unmarked Lauren Hemp.
England have stepped up a gear after half-time in recent games but still continued to play within themselves at times against Austria, and although they passed up a number of half-chances they were grateful to Mary Earps for denying Barbara Dunst a spectacular leveller late on.
The magnitude of the celebrations at full-time spoke as much of relief as jubilation among the England players.
Those three points on the board lift a little bit of that pressure for the Norway game on Monday, and the surroundings of a packed Amex Stadium over Old Trafford, although not quite as luxurious, may be slightly less overwhelming too.
No 10 spot remains up for grabs
England are blessed with a wealth of options in the No 10 position. Sarina Wiegman is spoilt for choice. It makes the selection process harder, but potentially that much more rewarding when the correct choice is vindicated by a stellar performance. That wasn’t quite the case on the opening night, despite England achieving their overarching aim – three points to kickstart their group campaign.
Such is the abundance of talent at her disposal Wiegman will not be worried – at this early stage – about a handful of imperfect individual displays. She’s methodical in her approach to problem-solving and unafraid to make big calls. It would therefore be unsurprising to see a slight change in personnel ahead of England’s next game against Norway in five days’ time.
Fran Kirby was one of a few of England’s attacking options that lacked a continuous spark in the final third. “We were too sloppy on the ball in moments,” Wiegman reflected, in reference to her team’s decision-making. Particularly evident in the first period, Kirby’s attempted pass to an unmarked Lauren Hemp in the box just before the break, which arrived awkwardly at the winger’s feet, typified much of England’s approach play. Hemp adjusted her feet well enough to get the shot off after shifting the ball on to her favoured left boot, but the rejig gave goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger plenty of time to restrict the angle.
It was a pass a player of Kirby’s calibre is more than capable of making, but the execution was missing on a night where nerves perhaps plagued a couple of England’s otherwise creative frontline. Ella Toone, introduced in the 63rd minute, was typically energetic when presented with her chance to play in front of a deafening crowd inside Old Trafford – and she didn’t appear to be overawed by the occasion.
Kirby needs time to reacquaint herself with the big stage but there were flickers, albeit brief, of the flair she possesses. Her dinked pass into the run of Beth Mead – whose revenge mission continues under Wiegman – was the instigator of England’s only goal on the night.
Undoubtedly, Kirby’s influence on games will grow as the tournament progresses, but there is too much talent waiting in the wings to dwell on opportunities not taken.