Nice: A Nikita Parris penalty set England on their way to a 2-1 win over Scotland in Nice to open their women’s World Cup campaign after Italy and Brazil both emerged victorious on Sunday.
It was an ideal start for Phil Neville’s side, who are among the tournament favourites, on a hot evening on the Cote d’Azur, with Ellen White also on target for England in the first half before Claire Emslie pulled one back for Scotland.
The Group D encounter ultimately hinged on the 14th-minute penalty, converted by Parris, which had been awarded following a VAR review of a handball by Scotland defender Nicola Docherty.
“We have been given two talks by referees, and both said that was going to be a penalty,” said Neville of the controversial award.
“I have not seen it, I didn’t look at it, I just trusted that the minute the referee came over, the minute that she does that, I think it is going to be a penalty.”
The Scottish coach, Shelley Kerr, described the decision as “harsh”, but at least her team gave a much better account of themselves in the second half, just two years after losing 6-0 to the same opponents in their opening match at the European Championship.
Neville called it an “unbelievable occasion”, but the only disappointment was that there were little more than 13,000 fans inside the ground to see it, fewer even than the number of tickets FIFA said had been sold for the match.
England will be back in Nice to face former winners Japan in their last Group D game, but before that they go to Le Havre to take on outsiders Argentina. Scotland face the Japanese next.
Elsewhere on Sunday, there was agony for Australia’s ‘Matildas’ as they conceded a stoppage-time goal to lose 2-1 to Italy in Valenciennes.
Barbara Bonansea ensured the Azzurre made a dramatic return to the World Cup after a 20-year absence, popping up at the back post to head in a stoppage-time winner in the Group C clash.
It was a second goal of the game for the Juventus player, who had already levelled for the dogged Italians, cancelling out the opener from Australian hotshot Sam Kerr.
“What can I say, it’s incredible, and scoring with my head as well, which never happens with me,” said Bonansea after netting Italy’s first two World Cup goals in two decades.
The Australians, tipped by many to have a big impact in France, had taken a first-half lead when Kerr converted the rebound after her penalty had been saved.
“This game is gone and now we have to focus on Brazil. We can’t ponder on a loss and we wouldn’t have pondered on a win either,” said Kerr.
Cristiane fills Marta void
Brazil got off to a great start, with Cristiane filling the gap left by absent star Marta as she scored a hat-trick to secure a 3-0 win over Jamaica’s ‘Reggae Girlz’.
Marta, one of the greatest female players of all time, had not recovered from a thigh injury in time to play in Grenoble, but the 34-year-old Cristiane stepped forward on the occasion of her 139th cap.
She headed in the opener after 15 minutes, scooped a rebound over the line five minutes after the break and capped her treble with a fine free-kick that curled in off the underside of the bar just past the hour.
Jamaica offered little resistance, and their goalkeeper Sydney Schneider prevented a heavier defeat as she saved Andressa’s weak 38th-minute penalty.
For Brazil, Formiga controlled midfield in her opening appearance at a record seventh World Cup, in which she became, at 41 years and 98 days, the oldest woman to play in the competition.
“Our attack was a huge point of satisfaction,” said Brazil coach Vadao. “Especially Cristiane, who the coaching staff has always believed in despite her injuries.”
Vadao said he was hopeful Marta would return for Thursday’s game against Australia in Montpellier.
On Monday, Japan and Argentina clash in Paris before Canada take on Cameroon in Montpellier in Group E.