Opening matches tend to be ignominious affairs for England teams, from Ray Wilkins’ dismissal to Rob Green’s fumble and the women are usually not immune. They had not won an opening game since 1997 and in 2013 lost in the last minute through a goalkeeper error.
Last night, however, Mark Sampson’s lionesses produced the most impressive opening night of any England team, of either gender, tearing Scotland apart with a superb performance. Stealing the show was Jodie Taylor who put on a display of clinical finishing to score the first hat-trick at these finals since 1997.
Had Taylor not been substituted on the hour she could easily have become the first person ever to score four. Taylor, now 31, was not capped until she was 28. Quite why the previous coach Hope Powell, appointed manager of Brighton’s women’s team yesterday, ignored her claims is a mystery.
Ellen White added another as Mark Sampson’s decision to play a bold attacking line-up was fully vindicated. A more cautious approach is likely against Spain in Breda on Sunday, but Sampson will not make many changes. That match is likely to decide who tops Group D, and thus probably avoids co-favourites France and Germany in the knock-out stages.
For Scotland coach Anna Signeul, in her last tournament after 12 years as their coach, the task now is to lift the team ahead of their match with Portugal, themselves well-beaten by Spain yesterday, though only 2-0.
Scotland had the support of the noisier band of fans, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who had decided to celebrate her her birthday by attending the match. But however much their fans tried to inspire them effort alone was never going to be enough against the supremely fit and technically superior English.
Sampson drafted in Birmingham’s White to make a three-pronged attack behind target woman Taylor. Nine of the starting XI had won bronze two years ago in the World Cup with Demi Stokes and Millie Bright the only newcomers.
Chole Arthur, whose father Gary was one of ten killed when a police helicopter came through the roof of Glasgow’s Clutha pub four years ago, was the surprise inclusion for Scotland. A late call up she had spoken movingly about how her father would have been proud of her prior to the finals.
It was an emotional night for all the Scottish players, none of whom, even 201-cap goalkeeper Gemma Fay, had ever appeared at a tournament before. Given the late kick-off, 8.45pm locally, and a sweltering day, there was a danger that they would feel drained even before kick-off
However, the Scots were first to threaten, Karen Bardsley tipping over a long-range Jane Ross shot after 25 seconds. They also won several corners in an end-to-end start. However, England began to take control and once they opened scoring the contest became increadsingly one-sided.
The goal was a clever one to score and bad one to concede. Jade Moore played the ball forward, Kirby stepped over it, both centre-halves bought the dummy, and Taylor ran on to finish coolly.
The Arsenal forward’s next goal was an instinctive strike amid a goalmouth melee. Jill Scott nodded down Nobbs’ free-kick, Lucy Bronze hooked the ball goalwards, Caroline Weir cleared off the line, but the ball ran to Taylor who drove in from narrow angle.
Shortly after the half-hour Scott took aim from 35 yards and, though Fay touched the ball onto the bar, White was first to react, drilling the ball in from ten yards.
The second period was just as one-sided. Taylor completed her hat-trick when White flicked on Steph Houghton’s long ball for her to lob Fay. After Lana Clelland hit the side-netting, England’s fitness told with two late goals. Nobbs volleyed neatly following Karen Carney’s cross. Then with the last touch of the new Barcelona striker Toni Duggan headed in from Houghton’s flick-on. Barring bookings for Houghton and Scott it was a perfect start for England.
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