By Samindra Kunti in Valenciennes, France
June 10 – England edged a strong and valiant Scotland 2-1 to get their World Cup campaign off on a high. Brazil and Germany also got off to winning starts while Italy upset Australia 2-1 in the opening weekend of the tournament.
Scotland returned to the World Cup for the first time in 21 years. At France 98, the men’s team finished bottom of their group after a solitary draw with Norway. The women’s team is hoping to do better at their maiden World Cup and demonstrated against England why they belong at these finals with a vastly improved performance from the 6-0 drubbing at Euro 2017 in the Netherlands.
England dominated the first half, but Scotland were never really cowed into submission and the Lionesses took the lead from the penalty spot through Nikita Parris in the 14th minute following another debatable VAR intervention. Crucially, Ellen White doubled England’s lead before the break and that cushion proved enough to keep Scotland at bay.
The Scots were the better team in the second half and Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert was a fine outlet upfront. The debutants were rewarded with goal from Claire Emslie, but despite exerting late pressure the team of coach Shelley Kerr couldn’t find an equalizer.
“I was pleased with the result,” said England boss Phil Neville. “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.”
The game, one of the tournament’s most enticing fixtures, was played in front of a disappointing crowd of just 13,188 in Nice, four thousand shy of the attendance for Brazil vs Jamaica in Grenoble. The Brazilians had a low-key buildup to the tournament following nine defeats. They also were without the injured Marta for their opening game.
Marta’s replacement Cristiane however took all doubts away against first-time finalists Jamaica to become the oldest person to score a World Cup hat-trick, handing Brazil a comfortable 3-0 win. Previously, Cristiano Ronaldo held the record aged 33 years and 130 days old when he scored a hat-trick in Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Spain at the World Cup in Russia. Aged 34 years and 25 days, Cristiane headed in a first, tapped in the second and scored from a free-kick with her third.
Brazil even missed a penalty, but were never troubled by the Jamaicans. The South Americans take the lead in Group C, closely followed by Italy who returned to the finals for the first time since 1999 in style, defeating a lackluster Australia with a last-gap header from Barbara Bonansea.
The striker had equalized in the 56th minute for the Azzurre following Sam Kerr’s first-half opening goal from the spot for the Matildas. The Australians faded badly and their laborious display was punished late on by the Juventus player.
“When it comes to teamwork, they are truly the strongest team at this tournament and that’s what will make the difference – team spirit,” said Italy coach Milena Bertolini. “It made the difference today. We suffered a lot, but the Italian team spirit came through.”
Germany – together with the United States the competition favorites – recorded a narrow win over China. In a cagey game, Gulia Gwinn’s neat strike from the edge of the box was enough for a German victory but they will need to improve their defence after the Chinese failed to capitalise on a slate on chances.
On Monday, Japan, 2015 runners up, will take on Argentina in the remaining Group C game while Cameroon and Canada kick off Group D.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1566630816labto1566630816ofdlr1566630816owedi1566630816sni@o1566630816fni1566630816