Beth Mead’s tricky lob after 15 minutes was all that separated the sides in a tense 1-0 win over England in a rowdy Old Trafford, as Sarina Wiegman’s side earned three hard-fought won that will undoubtedly calm the nerves of the start of the tournament.
England certainly improved as the game progressed and perhaps could have extended their margin of victory, but a lack of care and cohesion in the final third saw a number of good opportunities wasted.
Austria provided enough of a threat that the game was never comfortable and Wiegman will know how much his side will need to improve if they are to live up to the pre-tournament favorite hype.
England’s Dutch coach hardly celebrated the final whistle, but his players stayed on the pitch to enjoy the public adulation on a historic night. A total of 68,871 fans came to Old Trafford to watch the match, setting a new attendance record for a match at the Women’s European Championships.
With the July 31 final set to take place at Wembley Stadium, that record is likely to be broken again. After Wednesday night’s performance, however, the more relevant question is whether England will be one of the teams to get there.
“The atmosphere speaks for itself,” Player of the Game Georgia Stanway told reporters after the game. “The opportunity is huge and obviously there’s going to be a bit of a nerve.
“The noise [was the best thing about tonight], and while it was hard to hear the information, the noise just shows where we are. This is the standard the fans have set – make some noise and we can shake up the opposition.”
Stanway’s admission that her teammates struggled to hear Wiegman’s debriefing during the post-match huddle gives an indication of the noise level inside Old Trafford on Wednesday, as players huddled separated prematurely to join in the singing.
“Next time we have to delay ‘Sweet Caroline’ [after the final whistle],” she laughed.
Neil Diamond’s classic song became the theme for England’s men’s run to the Euro 2020 final last summer and the women’s team will hope to hear it several times during this tournament as well.
Excitement and tension
Driving the roughly four miles from Manchester’s northern quarter to Old Trafford on the outskirts, there were very few signs that within hours the city would host the opening game of a major international competition.
With the exception of a handful of fans wearing England shirts, it’s unlikely anyone visiting would have known there was even a game on.
Organizers of the 2019 World Cup in France were criticized for what some perceived as a lack of promotion for the tournament, and despite all the palpable excitement there had been in the build-up to Euro 2022, the same problems seem to persist here. .
As Old Trafford approached, however, the enthusiasm of the fans was certainly not lacking, with thousands having packed onto the pitch more than three hours before kick-off.
They were also confident. “Four zero England,” shouted a group, most wearing shirts bearing the name of Leah Williamson, the Lionesses’ new captain.
Their confidence is certainly not misplaced, as there is no doubt that England have world-class talent all over the pitch. The only concern heading into this tournament was whether the players could handle the weight of waiting to be home favourites.
In the build-up to the match, a number of players spoke of the confidence playing in front of the home support would give them, but there were palpable nerves at the start.
More than one errant pass gave Austria possession of dangerous areas on the pitch, although a lack of end product meant England’s mistakes went unpunished.
“Football is coming home”?
It didn’t take long for England to find their feet, as inroads from wide players Lauren Hemp and Mead sent the decibels soaring at Old Trafford.
It was England’s first period of sustained pressure and it was enough to break the Austrian defense as Fran Kirby’s ball found Mead, who coldly collected the ball on his chest and threw the ball past Manuela Zinsberger .
There were slightly delayed celebrations inside the stadium as it initially looked like Austria defender Carina Wenninger had managed to clear the ball from the line, but a referee’s watch check and whistle blew makes the Theater of Dreams delirious.
Many famous number sevens have graced the pitch at Old Trafford – David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona to name just three – and Mead’s finish was fitting for the greatest games to have been staged here.
The noise inside the stadium had gradually increased since the end of the national anthems, but Mead’s goal ensured it was now truly deafening.
It wasn’t long before the first rendition of “Football’s Coming Home” erupted in a small section of the stadium, though it didn’t spread further on the ground; perhaps fans were worried about getting too far ahead of themselves after last year’s men’s final against Italy was heartbreaking.
In the second half, Hemp began to show why she had entered Euro 2022 widely touted as one of the star players to watch and with considerable expectations on her shoulders.
The 21-year-old has been superb for club and country this season and her combination of speed, close control and eye for goal has made her one of the most feared players at this tournament.
Hemp gave Laura Wienroither, on the right of the Austrian defence, a torrid time, but an unusual lack of end product meant his twists came to nothing.
With just over 10 minutes to go, Austria created their best chance of the game and England had keeper Mary Earps to thank for keeping the scoreline level as they fended off the long-range effort by Barbara Dunst.
That would be as good as it gets for the visitor, who will no doubt get a huge confidence boost after facing this heavily favored England side.
If the Lionesses are to get into this tournament, Wiegman knows the team will need more support than they received at Old Trafford.
“Unbelievable [noise]. It’s just amazing,” she said. “We know where we’re from and we’re playing here at Old Trafford, in front of 70,000 people, which is making that noise. We hope they do it in other matches, we know we have sold stadiums.”
Wiegman acknowledges the team still has a lot to do, but for now, they’re letting their players enjoy a historic night.