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Women's World Cup

From Parris, with love! Neville's England change French perceptions with stylish Scotland win

21:01 GMT+3 09/06/2019
Nikita Parris England 2019
The Lionesses' coach was questioned over his team's philosophy ahead of their World Cup opener but showed just why they are so fancied for success

England turned on the style in their Women’s World Cup opener against Scotland, with manager Phil Neville proven correct after his headline-grabbing rebuttal of a French joiurnalist prior to his side's 2-1 win in Nice.

Having gone into the game with doubts over their label as title contenders following a shock 1-0 defeat to New Zealand, Neville’s side set the record straight with a slick, confident and attacking display that restricted their opponents to very little.

The French journalist who, in Saturday’s pre-match press conference, labelled the English style of play as "based on fighting, impact, intensity" will have been disappointed with what he saw on show at the Allianz Riviera.

Neville, on the other hand, will go home with a smug smile on his face – not just because England have beaten their nearest rivals, but because he told that reporter he would see different tonight.

"I think your image is wrong to be honest," he responded frankly. "I don't want to be insulting to anyone. I think our league is better than the French league, I think our style of football is really good, I don't think it is all about kick and rush, and hopefully you'll see that tomorrow night."

If he was watching, he will have seen just that. 

Scotland started the better of the two sides, pressing high and unsettling an England defence of whom questions have been raised.

But the momentum of this game swung into England’s favour in controversial circumstances, with VAR, inevitably, at the centre.

Fran Kirby’s cross struck the outstretched arm of Nicola Docherty and, despite no appeals from those in white, the referee would point to the spot after re-watching the incident.

Nikita Parris struck emphatically from 12 yards in what proved to be a hammer blow for Scotland.

Their energetic, high-pressing game degraded into a cautious, defensive style which did not allow neither Kim Little or Erin Cuthbert to get onto the ball and influence the game back into their favour.

England were more than comfortable, knocking the ball around with confidence – particular in one instance playing out from the back, where Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton and Parris made a mockery of their opponents, the latter especially with an exquisite turn and nutmeg on her marker, Docherty.

Parris and Bronze linked up brilliantly down the right and were simply too hot to handle – offering France a glimpse of what is to come, not only for the rest of this summer, but next season, when both will be playing for Lyon.

It was their link-up that provided Ellen White with her first chance of the evening, Parris sending a teasing cross into the near post for the striker to strike first time, only to be denied by a stunning save from Lee Alexander.

Alexander would come to Scotland’s rescue again – just minutes after the offside flag denied the overly-keen White a goal – as she saved well from Beth Mead’s low strike.

But England would get their second before half time, with Rachel Corsie dragged out of position to challenge Kirby for the ball, allowing it to fall nicely for White, who had all the time in the world to produce a composed finish.

Scotland came out in the second half more like they had in the first half, with positivity about them but, more importantly, with Little getting more involved.

After an offside flag denied Mead just 30 seconds after the restart, Little was able to lead a second half resurgence, linking up particularly well with the lively Claire Emslie, who would force a couple of saves, albeit comfortable ones, out of Karen Bardsley.

And it was Manchester City winger Emslie who got Scotland back into the game with a powerful finish after Lisa Evans' perfect through ball setting up an exciting final 10 minutes at the Allianz Riviera.

But their fight-back fell short in the end, with England defending well, despite the goal and an injury to centre-back Millie Bright threatening to unsettle them.

Waistcoat on the manager, England fans singing ‘it’s coming home’ and an impressive win with exciting football – France brought back fond memories of last summer’s World Cup in Russia for fans of this evening’s victors.

There’s a long way to go yet if England want to go one better than Gareth Southgate’s men, who finished fourth just less than 12 months ago.

But, in what Neville described as ‘the most difficult’ game of the tournament, the Lionesses certainly made a great start – while that French perception of English football is bound to change sooner, rather than later.