Unpolished England get the job done but must improve to strike fear into major players at Women’s Euro 2022

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f England are going to win Euro 2022, they will have to play better than this but a 1-0 win over Austria should go down as job done.

For 75 minutes, the Lionesses were on top through Beth Mead’s goal but always in a game against a plucky Austrian side, who pushed for a party-pooping late equalizer at a packed Old Trafford.

An unpolished and slightly jittery performance is unlikely to strike fear into the likes of Spain, Sweden, Germany and France – the tournament’s other favorites – but Wiegman will know the benefit of peaking in latter stages, as Netherlands side did on the way to glory on home soil in 2017.

Just as encouraging as three valued points, a party atmosphere and a record crowd of 68,871 for a Women’s European Championship fixture suggested these finals can be seismic for the sport on these shores, as hoped.

Even the gloomy weather could not dampen spirits in Manchester, as a clearly youthful crowd cheered on the Lionesses, aided by a brass band – best associated with England men’s fixtures – at one end.

The gray sky was mirrored by effects of a pyrotechnic-filled opening ceremony, which left the pitch heavy with smoke and almost obscured following a display of flares, fireworks and flags.

After a nervy start, England sparked into life on the pitch in the 16th-minute with a peach of a goal from Arsenal’s Mead, showcasing the hosts’ finesse in the final third.

Fran Kirby carved open the Austrian defense with a diagonal pass, which Mead cushioned with a first touch off her shoulder and finished with her second, a cute dink over the goalkeeper.

Goal -line technology and VAR – used for the first time in a women’s Euros – confirmed the ball had just crossed the line before Carina Wenniger desperately hooked it away.

Kirby quickly established herself as England’s beating heart, pulling the strings from No.10 and featuring in all of their more dangerous attacks.

The Chelsea player, who has not always been at her brilliant best in an England shirt, created further chances for Lucy Bronze and Lauren Hemp before the interval as England threatened to overwhelm the visitors.

After sliding in Bronze, who opted to cross from a good shooting position, Kirby broke behind the Austria defense and squared for Hemp, whose effort was well-saved by onrushing goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger.

England scored a flurry a late goals following substitutions in all three of their warm -up matches and the introduction of a trio of forwards – Alessia Russo, Chloe Kelly and Ella Toone – just after the hour was clearly designed to finally break Austria’s resistance.

Kelly went close after a darting run and shot but Austria refused to lie down, and continued to cause problems for England’s defense, marshalled by captain Leah Williamson who was pushed back from midfield.

Sarina Wiegman knows all about peaking in the latter stages of an international tournament

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Goalkeeper Mary Earps was twice tested in the latter stages as Austria pushed for a shock late equalizer, making a sprawling save to deny Barbara Dunst from range and then holding Julia Hickelsberger-Fuller’s effort.

England also held on to make it 15 games unbeaten under Wiegman and were rewarded with a rendition of Sweet Caroline at full-time, evoking memories of the men’s run to the final at last summer’s Euros.

Like Gareth Southgate’s side, the Lionesses will know that keeping clean sheets goes a long way at this stage but Wiegman will know that more clinical and polished displays must follow.

If this occasion was as much about the off-field as the on, though, unquestionably it goes down as a successful start to these finals for England.

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