NICE: Former winners Japan will hope to keep pace with group rival England’s winning start when the Nadeshiko kick off their Women’s World Cup campaign against outsiders Argentina on Monday.
England got the better of their old foes Scotland in Nice Sunday, although Phil Neville’s side were forced to cling on for a 2-1 victory.
A Nikita Parris penalty and Ellen White’s strike had England 2-0 up and cruising in the south of France, but Scotland rallied in the second half on their World Cup finals debut and Claire Emslie pulled one back.
England, who are among the favourites to win the trophy, took three points in the Group D opener but the victory hinged on the 14th-minute penalty 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 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.”
Scotland 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 Euro 2017.
Neville called it an “unbelievable occasion” but there were little more than 13,000 fans inside the ground to see it, disappointingly fewer than the number of tickets FIFA said had been sold.
England will be back in Nice to face 2011 world champions Japan in their last group game, but before that the Nadeshiko will expect to get off to a winning start against Argentina at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
The South American nation are back at the World Cup after 12 years away but know the size of the task awaiting them when the match kicks off at 1600 GMT.
“We lack decades of development to reach world levels. But football has something special, the passion, the fury inside,” said their coach, Carlos Borrello, as he labelled his players “warriors”.
Elsewhere on day three 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.
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 too, 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.
The former Paris Saint-Germain player 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.
Monday’s other game will see Canada – ranked fifth in the world – take on Cameroon in Montpellier in Group E.