MANCHESTER, England: Beth Mead scored the only goal of the game as host England beat Austria 1-0 in front of a tournament-record crowd of 68,871 at Old Trafford in the Women’s European Championship opener on Wednesday.
Mead skillfully flicked the ball over Austria goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger in the 16th minute but it needed goal-line technology to prove it had just crossed the line before being cleared.
“What an amazing night, it’s great to start the tournament with a win and I’m glad to get a goal for my team,” Mead told the BBC. “I was pretty sure it went over (the line) but you always doubt yourself.”
The narrow margin of victory reflected a close game in which England dominated possession but couldn’t create enough clear chances to match their more convincing pre-tournament wins over teams like Belgium, Denmark and the defending champion Netherlands.
The 16-team tournament kicked off a year later than originally scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic. It carries hopes that it will further boost the fast-growing audience for women’s soccer in Europe, and UEFA has said more than 500,000 tickets have been sold. The previous record attendance for a European Championship game was 41,301 for the 2013 final between Germany and Norway at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.
Since the last tournament in 2017, England has been at the forefront of that development as Women’s Super League clubs signed many of the world’s best players and increased revenue and TV audiences. Now unbeaten in 15 games over the last year, the England national team is still seeking a first major tournament title.
Austria was a surprise semifinalist in the 2017 European Championship on its only previous appearance, when it conceded one goal in five games and only lost in a penalty shootout.
England goalkeeper Mary Earps stopped Austria getting a point Wednesday when she dived at full stretch in the 78th to stop Barbara Dunst’s dangerous curling shot.
England could earlier have scored more when Ellen White headed wide in the 26th and Zinsberger reacted quickly to keep out Lauren Hemp’s effort in first-half stoppage time.
“We should have scored a couple of times to make it easier, but overall I’m very happy. We have a win, and don’t underestimate Austria — they are a very well-organized team,” England manager Sarina Wiegman, who coached the Netherlands to the 2017 title, told the BBC. “I’m not frustrated, I just think we can do better. Sometimes we rushed. We have to be a little calmer in the final stage.”