The Lionesses will be waking up this morning wondering if it really was all a dream. The 68,000 people that turned up at Old Trafford yesterday provided an electric atmosphere and got to witness a 1-0 win that Sarina Wiegman wanted.
It wasn’t a vintage or fluid performance from this England team and we have seen in recent weeks that they can blow teams away, but it was a job well done. The attacking unit that hit five past the Netherlands in the warm-up games couldn’t quite get firing and the addition of the talismanic Ellen White didn’t quite work out as expected.
The striker will come good. She always does in major tournaments, but this 1-0 win over a spirited Austria side thanks to Beth Mead’s goal was a game that England needed to get out of the way. The men began their run to last year’s final with a similar 1-0 win, and in the group stages, it is simply a case of getting the points on the board and discovering your best XI.
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- Betfred's Euro 2022 odds*
Talking of that best XI, captain Leah Williamson looked settled as part of the back four alongside Millie Bright, while Lucy Bronze was as energetic as ever from right-back. Wiegman will be keen to push her even further up the pitch against Norway, but there was a positive impact from Fran Kirby.
Her place in the squad came under question after she missed a lot of games domestically due to an injury and then a fatigue issue, but spurred on by the crowd, she looked as energetic as ever. England’s attention will now turn to Monday, but today - Northern Ireland will make history.
This is their first appearance at a major tournament and they are rank outsiders, but they are as determined as ever. Captain Marissa Callaghan has reflected the jovial mood in the camp ahead of this testing opener by replying “Who?” when asked about Norway’s former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg.
This test against a talented Norway outfit at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium is a tough start for Kennny Shiels’ side and they are not in the best form heading into the competition. A run of four defeats in a row is a stark reminder of where they stand in European football, with a 5-0 loss to England perhaps a hint and things to come in this group. But just making it to this stage is a sign of huge progress for the women’s game in Northern Ireland.
We’ve seen time and time again how one major tournament can inspire a generation and hopefully those on show can be pioneers for future female footballers. For Norway on the south coast, with Hegerberg back on side after her five-year absence, they will harbour aspirations of winning this group ahead of hosts England.
Northern Ireland’s outsider status is shown by the odds - they are 25/1 to win tonight and 200/1 to win the entire tournament.
Day Two Fixtures
Northern Ireland vs Norway (Southampton, 8pm)
*18+, odds subject to change, terms and conditions apply.