A routine start to a major tournament for England but not without its degree of drama on the occasion of VAR’s introduction to the women’s Euros.
Although the only goal by Beth Mead was adjudged to have been valid by goal-line technology, the officials still wanted it double-checked by the newcomers.
Equally contentious was a non-VAR call. With nine minutes left and England a goal away from an early crisis, Austria pleaded for a penalty when the ball struck the arm of Leah Williamson but the captain was spared an electronic review.
Small margins but not reflective of a game England needed out of their system before the superior Norwegians square up next Monday.
It’s hard to believe that this all started for England four years ago in Ireland.
John Delaney, in his pomp as the rising star of Uefa’s executive committee, assembled the good and not-so-good of Uefa’s blazers in Shelbourne Hotel’s grand ballroom.
Surrounded by marble and veneer, the FAI’s delegate put his full weight behind England’s bid, no doubt aware the gesture would be reciprocated for a similar brainchild he was hatching with Northern Ireland for the U21 finals.
Within five months, Delaney was on gardening leave and the vanity joint-bid binned for the more pressing priority of avoid default of staff wages.
England managed just fine without the Irishman’s benevolence, fully sure transforming into a first fully professional league across Europe would funnel into success for the national team. It hasn’t eradicated their near-miss tag; semi-finals in 2015 and 2017 were followed by another at the 2019 World Cup in France but the fusion of investment and leadership is at least maintaining trajectory towards a major tournament crown.
They began streaming into the fan park from four hours before kick-off, treated As Roy Keane likes to remind them, the English are adept at bulldozing brands into the sporting public’s consciousness and their surge of promotion yielded over 500,000 ticket sales for the 16-nation tournament – twice the amount purchased for the last version in the Netherlands.
A sell-out for this opening night is bookended by another on July 31 at Wembley Stadium, when England fully expect to be participating in the final.
Expectation is the element England’s players continue to be hamstrung by but even if they descend to the default setting of bridesmaids, their ability to stage a party is unmatched.
From four hours before kick-off, the crowds streamed into the Fan Park opposite Old Trafford, treated to a plethora of gimmicks by Uefa’s commercial partners to whip up an atmosphere. The clackers were plentiful, a playlist peaked by The Killer’s Mr Brightside abounded and vox-poppers mopped up on the consistency of football coming home predictions.
The pageantry was sustained once the turnstiles opened at 6pm, the opening ceremony show a concoction of lights and smoke that not even an untimely dose of Lancashire drizzle couldn’t dampen.
All it needed was for the glitz to be matched on the pitch. In a contest between black and white, it was vital for someone to inject some colour.
Fran Kirby possesses that star quality. She was the wildcard inclusion in the England starting team, one hardly predictable just 10 weeks ago when the Chelsea star blamed ongoing fatigue for writing off the remainder of the campaign. It wasn’t the first time her body played tricks on her.
Sarina Wiegman saw enough in their pre-tournament camp to deem the risk worthy, yet her involvement was being flagged as from the bench.
Not so and her partnership with Lauren Hemp behind sole striker Ellen White was the winning of the game.
It was only after a nervy opening when Austria took the initiative through Sarah Zadrazil that they settled – the Bayern Munich playmaker unable to take advantage of sloppiness by Hemp in unfamiliar territory midway into her half.
Hemp was wasteful with a free and White cushioned a soft header into Manuela Zinsberger’s arms, insufficient to rouse the masses.
A clinical passage on 17 minutes had them on their feet. Hemp’s header allowed Kirby to look up and she spotted Mead darting into the box. Controlling the pass on her chest, she hooked the ball over her advancing Arsenal team-mate Zinsberger's head.
That wasn’t the only hook, for the back-peddling Carina Wenninger thought she prevented a goal but her hook off the crossbar was deemed to have crossed the line.
That was the precursor for England to relax with Kirby stepping up the pace. Her pinpoint cross for White was badly nodded off-target while another delicious assist to Mead on the stroke of half-time was only halted by a brilliant Zinsberger save.
Mary Earps was much less worked at the other end, her only stop of note coming with 12 minutes when she dived full-stretch to turn Barbara Dunst’s 25-yarder around the post. Job done before the tougher tests lurk.
M Earps; L Bronze, M Bright, L Williamson, R Daly; G Stanway, K Walsh; B Mead (C Kelly 64), F Kirby (A Russo 64), L Hemp; E White (E Toone 64).
M Zinsberger; L Wienroither, C Wenninger, V Schnaderbeck (M Georgieva 77), V Hanshaw; S Zadrazil, S Puntigam, L Feiersinger (M Hobinger 86); K Naschenweng (J Hickelsberger-Fuller 58), N Billa, B Dunst.
Marta Huerta de Aza (ESP) ATTENDANCE: 68,871.