Women’s Euro 2022 player ratings and analysis as Beth Mead seals win

England 1-0 Austria (Mead ’16)

OLD TRAFFORD — Sarina Wiegman had been guarded about how England would approach Austria as the tournament kicked off in front of a record Women’s European Championship crowd, but it paid off as the Lionesses got their campaign underway with a 1-0 win.

Here are i‘s five things we learned.

As if Kirby had never been away

Fran Kirby has only played 188 minutes of international football in 2022. That is the only reason she was not guaranteed her place as a starter and it was a bold move of Wiegman to hand her only a second start of the calendar year.

It was quickly vindicated, though, as the Chelsea star sees things that others don’t. Kirby’s ball over the top set up Beth Mead for the opening goal, a chip over Manuela Zinsberger that Carina Wenninger tried to clear as it ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar.

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Kirby sliced another pass through the Austria defence to take out four defenders. It’s not even three months since she was forced to take another indefinite break from playing due to health issues. That she was able to come through 63 minutes and run so many of England’s attacks is all the more impressive in that light.

Williamson back…at the back

Beforehand, Leah Williamson had declined to say whether she would be moving back into defence. Keira Walsh teamed up with her recently departed ex-Manchester City team-mate Georgia Stanway in midfield instead, though the reshuffle did not go entirely smoothly. A short pass from Walsh left Williamson in trouble, and she gave away possession cheaply in the box for Austria’s first corner. It had already happened once with Lauren Hemp and Williamson had to adapt quickly to a lot less time on the ball. The big casualty of Williamson’s retreat to centre-back was Alex Greenwood, who was unfortunate to drop to the bench – but as this was likely an indicator of Wiegman’s preferred XI, she may find herself in the same boat against Norway.

White thwarted

Some of Ellen White’s greatest contributions came from her pressing, setting Kirby away for a first-time pass that very nearly resulted in the Lionesses doubling their lead. England had tried to use her as an aerial threat, but every cross was either collected by Zinsberger, or White could not get enough power on it and put two excellent opportunities wide. Wiegman was right to throw on Alessia Russo in her customary changes just after the hour mark.

Wiegman’s changes

The England boss had thrown on Ella Toone, Russo and Chloe Kelly, replacing Kirby, Mead, and White, to inject fresh legs into an England side that had started to stutter a little. Kelly was particularly lively, forcing a corner with one of her first acts on the ball, while Russo was just shy of connecting to dangerous Hemp free-kick from just yards out.

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England’s Euro hopes

The next game against Norway will tell us a lot more about how seriously England should be taken at this Euros. It’s worth remembering they only beat Austria 1-0 in their most recent meeting before this, and that interrupted what seemed like a constant run of free scoring. So, no panic stations just yet, but what will concern most of the 68,871 inside Old Trafford slightly more is that they had their air of an XI still working out their places in this system.

England player ratings

  • Earps – 7 Forced into a stretching save by Barbara Dunst for her first real action of the night and kept England in it at a pivotal time
  • Bronze – 7 A tough ask to contain Laura Feiersinger, who was one of Austria’s standouts, but knew her role and looked solid
  • Williamson – 6 Settled in at centre-half eventually but can’t afford to concede possession so cheaply if she’s to stay there
  • Bright – 8 A brilliant cross-field pass to set Hemp away. Cleared the goal-line when Feiersinger broke through Stanway and Walsh to set up Nicole Billa
  • Daly – 7 Played on the left out of her comfort zone but equipped herself well, even if she was relatively contained
  • Stanway – 7 Engineered two great chances, running through two defenders but her cross took a deflection. Could have scored England’s second from distance but couldn’t keep it down.
  • Walsh – 6 Had to adjust to the switch-up in midfield and fared OK, but was beaten too easily on a couple of occasions in the midfield battle
  • Kirby – 8 The assist to Mead was the highlight, but also just as effective hoofing away Austria’s set piece
  • Mead – 8 Her goal was just reward for a couple of openings where she had wriggled into the box
  • Hemp – 8 Caused constant problems and was to be found in every promising England move. Electric and probably England’s player of the match
  • White – 5 A deeply frustrating night. Pictured with her hands on her head after blaring a header wide that summed up a frustrating night

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