A neat cross from Beth Mead 15 minutes into the game was all that separated the sides in England’s tight 1-0 victory at a tumultuous Old Trafford. Sarina Wigman’s team picked up a hard-earned three points that will surely calm the nerves at the start of the tournament.
England certainly improved as the match went on and could possibly have increased their margin of victory, but a lack of caution and cohesion in the final third meant a number of good opportunities were missed.
Austria posed enough of a threat to ensure the match was never comfortable, and Wigman would know how much her team would need to improve if she was to live up to the pre-tournament favourite.
When the final whistle blew, the England head coach from the Netherlands didn’t celebrate much, but her players remained on the pitch to receive rave reviews from the fans on this historic evening. A total of 68,871 fans came to watch the game at Old Trafford, setting a new attendance record for a European Women’s Championship match.
With the final scheduled for July 31st at Wembley Stadium, it is likely that the record will be broken again. However, after Wednesday night’s performance, the most pertinent question is whether England will be one of the teams that will make it there.
“The atmosphere speaks for itself,” Man of the Match Georgia Stanway told reporters after the match. “The case is grandiose, and obviously there will be some nerves.
“Noise [was the best thing about tonight], and although it was hard to hear the information, the noise just shows where we are. This is the standard that the fans have set – make a fuss and we can stir up the opposition.”
Stanway’s admission that her teammates struggled to hear Wigman’s report in the post-match crowd gives some insight into the level of noise at Old Trafford on Wednesday, as players broke away prematurely to join in the chanting.
“Next time we need to postpone ‘Sweet Caroline’ [after the final whistle]”she was laughing.
The Neil Diamond classic was the theme song for England’s men’s Euro 2020 final performance last summer, and the women’s team also hope to hear it a few more times during this tournament.
Excitement and tension
After walking about four miles from Manchester’s North Quarter to Old Trafford on the outskirts, there was very little sign that the city would host the first game of a major international competition in a few hours.
With the exception of a handful of fans in English shirts, it is unlikely that any of those who came knew that the match would even take place.
Organizers of the 2019 World Cup in France have come under fire for what some have perceived as lack of publicity for the tournament, and for all the palpable excitement there has been in the run-up to Euro 2022, the same concerns still seem to persist. .
On the way to Old Trafford, however, there was no shortage of enthusiastic supporters, with thousands of them gathered around the stadium more than three hours before kick-off.
They were sure too. “Four-zero, England,” shouted one group, most of them wearing shirts bearing the name of Leah Williamson, the new captain of the Lionesses.
Their confidence is certainly not in vain as there is no doubt that England has world class talent all over the field. The only issue with this tournament was whether the players could handle the weight of the expectation of becoming favorites on home soil.
Leading up to the game, some players talked about the confidence playing ahead of home support would give them, but there were some palpable nerves early on.
More than one erroneous pass gave Austria possession of the ball in dangerous areas of the field, although the lack of an end result meant that England’s mistakes went unpunished.
“Football is coming home”?
It didn’t take long for England to get back on their feet, however, as forays forward from wide players Lauren Hemp and Meade raised the decibels inside Old Trafford.
This was England’s first period of sustained pressure, and it was enough to break the Austrian defence, as Fran Kirby’s pass was found by Mead, who coolly intercepted the ball with her chest and passed the ball over the attacking Manuela Zinsberger.
The celebration at the stadium was delayed a bit as it initially appeared that Austrian defender Karina Wenninger had managed to clear the ball off the line, but a check on the referee’s clock and the whistle of her whistle drove the Theater of Dreams into a delirium.
The Old Trafford field was adorned with many famous sevens – David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona, to name but a few – and Meade’s finish was worthy of the biggest games played there.
The noise in the stadium gradually increased after the end of the national anthems, but thanks to Mead’s goal, it was now truly deafening.
It wasn’t long before the first performance of “Football’s Coming Home” broke out in one small part of the stadium, though it failed to spread further across the ground; Perhaps the fans were afraid to get too ahead of themselves after last year’s men’s final against Italy.
In the second half, Cannabis began showing flashes of why she came to Euro 2022, heavily touted as one of the star players to watch and with high expectations on her shoulders.
The 21-year-old has performed superbly for club and country this season, and her combination of speed, precise control and determination has made her one of the most intimidating players in this tournament.
Hemp gave Laura Winreuther on the right flank of the Austrian defense a torrid time, but her uncharacteristic lack of end result meant that her turns went nowhere.
With just over 10 minutes left, Austria created their best chance of the game and England goalkeeper Mary Earps had to thank goalkeeper Mary Earps for keeping the score tied when she cleared a shot from long range by Barbara Dunst.
That would be good for the guest, who will no doubt get a huge boost of confidence after taking on this beloved England team.
Wigman knows that if the Lionesses succeed in this tournament, the team will need more of the support they received at Old Trafford.
“Incredible [noise]. “It’s just incredible,” she said. “We know where we come from and we play here at Old Trafford in front of 70,000 people, making such a fuss. We hope they do this for other matches as well, we know the stadiums are sold out.”
Wigman admits the team has a lot of room for improvement, but for now, it’s letting its players enjoy a historic night.