The women’s European Championship got under way with pre-game fireworks for a tournament record crowd but there was little sparkle from hosts England as they laboured to a 1-0 win over Austria at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
The crowd of 68,871 was the largest for a European Championship game, beating the previous best of 41,301 from the Euro 2013 final in Sweden, and the enthusiasm of the heavily youthful and noisy supporters fired England to a lively start.
Beth Mead grabbed the decisive goal in the 16th minute for the Lionesses – dinking the ball over Austria goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger after being picked out by Fran Kirby.
Although Austria defender Carina Wenninger valiantly attempted to clear off the line, with her effort striking the bar and flying away from goal, the ball was ruled to have crossed the line.
It was Mead’s 15th goal in as many games for her country and the Lionesses’ alltime top scorer Ellen White went close to adding a second, ten minutes later, flashing a header from a Lauren Hemp cross just wide.
It felt like England could quickly establish a comfortable lead with Georgia Stanway finding space to create and Kirby delivering some clever passes on the left.
But the Austrians settled into a compact shape and occasionally threatened on the break while England gradually ran out of their early burst of inspiration.
Sarina Wiegman’s team struggled to create clear-cut chances and lacked sharpness in attack with the Dutch coach making a triple substitution in the 64th minute in an attempt to add some spice.
Austria were on the back foot for much of the game but came close to a leveller in the 78th — England goalkeeper Mary Earps doing well to keep out a curling effort from Barbara Dunst.
“It was the first game of the tournament,” said Wiegman, who won the tournament as Netherlands coach in 2017.
“It’s so important to win the game to have a good start. I think we showed different phases in this game, some good and some not-so-good,” she added.
Mead was more effusive after lapping up the singing of the crowd at the end of the game.
“Beyond words. What an amazing night to start the tournament with a win. I’m really happy to get a goal for the team,” she told the BBC.
England’s other Group A rivals, Northern Ireland and Norway will face each other on Thursday in Southampton.
Austria coach Irene Fuhrmann was pleased with the way her team approached the game.
“I am very proud of our performance and the way we played. But at the end of the day we are leaving with zero points and that is a big disappointment,” she said.
“In the second half we showed a good reaction offensively, we showed courage and created a few chances but of course England dominated and deserved the win.”