Chelsea Women representatives Millie Bright, Fran Kirby, Karen Carney and Erin Cuthbert all featured in tonight’s opening Group D fixture when England went head-to-head with neighbours Scotland.
As rivalries go, England v Scotland is like no other in sport and this World Cup fixture was huge for both sides, but it was the Lionesses who edged an important 2-1 win at Nice’s Allianz Riviera stadium.
Three Chelsea players began the game with Millie Bright in defence and Fran Kirby in attack for England, while Erin Cuthbert played up top for Scotland. Karen Carney came on for the final 20 minutes and Carly Telford remained on the bench.
The opening stages of the match were end-to-end and Cuthbert proved to be a danger for England’s back-line. However, it was England who took the lead on 14 minutes after Lyon forward Nikita Parris successfully converted a penalty. The decision, confirmed by VAR, came from Kirby’s cross out on the right which gently brushed the arm of Nicola Doherty – the Scottish fans made it clear that they were unhappy with the decision as their booing echoed loudly around the stadium.
Kirby was very lively throughout, her movement and combination play with Ellen White of Manchester City causing the Scottish defence problems. And our Blues striker missed a golden chance to get her name on the scoresheet when she picked up the ball just outside of the 18-yard-box but scuffed her shot narrowly wide after rushing.
White, who started her career at Chelsea, doubled the lead for England close to half-time with a well-executed finish from the edge of the box.
On the stroke of half-time our Player of the Year Cuthbert, who struggled to get on the ball in the later stages of the first half, almost pulled one back for Scotland when she pounced on a loose ball and flashed a shot across the face of England’s goal.
After the break both Bright and Cuthbert chased down the same ball and our forward was too strong for her team-mate and levered her out of the way. Bright was substituted off shortly after as a result of landing awkwardly on her shoulder. Man United’s Abbie McManus replaced her.
The Scots tried to get numbers forward with Cuthbert being at the heart of the attack, but England continued to defend diligently.
Phil Neville brought on Carney in place of Arsenal’s Beth Mead with 20 minutes left on the clock. The Blues' captain continued where she left off from her impressive performance against New Zealand in the Lionesses' final warm-up friendly and provided a fresh route of attack on the left flank.
However, cracks appeared to show in the final stages in England’s back-line and they were punished for it. Claire Emslie, who recently signed for Orlando Pride, had been a menace on the right wing and her efforts paid off when she beat Man United’s Alex Greenwood to the ball and sidefooted powerfully into the roof of the net with 10 minutes left.
It was a very nervy ending for England, but they managed to hold on and seal the opening victory. The Lionesses next travel to Le Havre on 14 June to take on Argentina, while Scotland come up against Japan, ranked seventh in the world, in Rennes on the same night.
Karen Carney spoke afterwards: ‘I think the first game is always hard, we have been waiting for it for almost 18 months now.
‘You have got to give Scotland credit, they came at us and granted our performance could have been better but it’s about three points and getting that on the table and we’ll take that and keep building.’