England held on against Scotland at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light to win their first Women’s Nations League match and begin their quest to secure qualification for TeamGB for the Olympic Games.
World Cup finalists England were tested by a gutsy Scotland team who created plenty of opportunities as they continued to showcase their progression under manager Pedro Martinez Losa.
Headed goals from Lucy Bronze and Lauren Hemp gave the Lionesses the lead before Kirsty Hanson got one back for Scotland in first-half injury time.
Scotland were aggrieved not to have had a penalty earlier for a shove on Martha Thomas by England captain Millie Bright in the box and they hit the crossbar in the second half with a dipping volley from Hanson.
European champions England also had a goal ruled out in the first half when Chloe Kelly was offside as Rachel Daly headed in a corner.
Victory puts England on three points in the four-team group A1 along with Belgium, who beat the Netherlands 2-1.
Team GB would qualify for the Olympics should nominated nation England reach the Nations League final, or finish third if hosts France reach the final.
There was a lively atmosphere in the North East but while opponents on the pitch, both teams were united off it.
England’s Bright had expressed support this week for Scotland, who resolved a dispute with their football association following accusations of inequality. That came before the Lionesses announced they had also reached an agreement with their FA on a dispute over performance-related bonuses.
Both teams chose to play in black armbands on Friday evening and there was a period of silence before kick-off in memory of former England youth international Maddy Cusack, who passed away earlier this week.
They also showed support and solidarity for the Spanish team by wearing white wristbands with the hashtag #SeAcabo – which translates to English as “it’s over” – and came together for a group photo before kick-off.
Lionesses tested by Scotland
It was an intriguing contest at Stadium of Light as both teams, lining up for the first time in the new Women’s Nations League tournament, were tested in different ways.
England were back on home soil for the first time since shrugging off their World Cup final defeat by Spain just a month ago, while Scotland faced a team who are used to rubbing shoulders with world giants.
It was no surprise to see the Lionesses stamp their authority early on, reacting to a warm reception by fans in Sunderland to dominate possession and test Scotland’s defence in the opening 20 minutes.
Daly thought she had found the breakthrough when she headed past Lee Gibson from a corner but Kelly was marginally offside and impeding the Scotland keeper – a good spot from referee Maria Sole Caputi given there was no video assistant referee.
Tottenham striker Thomas was sure she had earned a penalty when Bright carelessly barged into the back of her but England got away with it and capitalised when Bronze went up the other end and superbly directed Katie Zelem’s inviting cross into the net.
Hemp quickly made it 2-0 with another powerful header, getting the better of Rachel McLauchlan, but Scotland ensured a nervy second half as Hanson pounced on Claire Emslie’s cut-back after a mistake in the Lionesses’ defence to halve the deficit.
With the Women’s Super League season yet to kick off, England looked like a team who had reached a World Cup final a month ago and had not fully recovered as the game lacked intensity and threatened to fizzle out towards the end.
But Scotland were relentless in their attempts to cause an upset and almost did – Hanson smashing the crossbar, Christy Grimshaw testing goalkeeper Mary Earps and Thomas heading straight at England’s number one.
However, while this was not as plain sailing as England may have hoped, it was ‘job done’ on their Nations League debut and is the first step in the right direction towards Olympic qualification on behalf of Team GB.
- 7KellySubstituted forTooneat 59′minutes
- 20Le Tissier
- 14McLauchlanSubstituted forBrownat 86′minutes
- 18EmslieSubstituted forEvansat 83′minutes
- 10HansonSubstituted forDavidsonat 90′minutes
- 20ThomasSubstituted forGallacherat 82′minutes
- Maria Ferrieri Caputi