COLUMBUS: Phil Neville’s reign as manager of England’s women’s team got off to a dream start with a 4-1 rout of France in the SheBelieves Cup here Thursday (Friday in Manila).
A blistering first-half display with goals from Toni Duggan, Jill Scott and Jodie Taylor set England on the way to an impressive opening win in the tournament, which also includes the United States and Germany.
Chelsea forward Fran Kirby added a fourth for England early in the second half to seal a victory which leaves Neville’s side brimming with confidence ahead of Sunday’s second game against Germany in Harrison, New Jersey.
Former Manchester United and Everton utility player Neville was controversially appointed to the England job in January despite having no experience as a full-time manager in either the women’s or men’s game.
He had replaced Mark Sampson, the manager who was sacked last year for inappropriate relationships with players in a former job at Bristol Academy.
“I was a little bit nervous before the game, I had a few butterflies, but my players didn’t, that’s the most important thing,” Neville said afterwards.
“There is great expectation and I love that expectation. On the bus, on the way to the ground, it felt right.
“It felt right standing in the technical area and the most important thing is the players are enjoying the raised expectations and the higher profile.”
Neville’s side served notice that they aim to be among the contenders at the 2019 World Cup in France with a ruthless demolition of next year’s tournament hosts.
Neville kept most the squad which reached the semi-finals of the Euro Championships last year but there was a recall for Chelsea’s Anita Asante for the first time since 2015 while highly rated Manchester City ace Keira Walsh was given her second cap.
But it was Barcelona star Duggan who gave Neville the dream start after just six minutes, curling home a Nikita Parris pass to bag her 20th international goal.
With France struggling to contain England’s passing game, it wasn’t long before Neville was high-fiving his backroom staff as Manchester City midfield dynamo Scott made it 2-0.
England were dominant with keeper Karen Bardsley rarely troubled and the game was put out of sight on 28 minutes when Scott steered home before Kirby’s neat finish gave Neville’s team the scoreline their performance deserved.
France pulled one back on 77 minutes when Millie Bright deflected a shot from sub Gaetane Thiney.
USA beat Germany
The crowd had swelled considerably for the USA’s opening match against Germany – a coming together of the top two teams in the world according to the FIFA rankings.
Unlike in the previous match, however, goals were hard to come by although the hosts always looked the most likely to score.
The winning goal came on 17 minutes through Megan Rapinoe who struck the ball under German keeper Almuth Schult to warm the 14,591 fans who braved the cold winds and rain at the Mapfre Stadium.
It was the Seattle Reign midfielder’s 35th international strike and ultimately the difference between the two teams with Germany failing to seriously test the reigning World Champion’s defense during a match which failed to spark into life.
Jill Scott’s USA team now face France in New Jersey on Sunday while Germany will take on England.