England Women are off and running in the Women’s World Cup, having picked up their first points of the tournament with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Mexico.
Goals from Fran Kirby and Karen Carney proved enough for the victory, though the Three Lionesses had to survive a late scare as Fabiola Ibarra tapped home from close range to halve the deficit and set up a nervy finish.
It was a crucial triumph for Mark Sampson’s side, who knew they simply had to win to keep their hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages of the competition alive.
England headed into the clash as favourites and in the knowledge maximum points from their remaining games would clinch that qualification, and Sampson fielded an attacking line-up to reflect that ambition.
All five of MCWFC’s representatives made the starting XI, as the manager opted to shuffle the pack slightly from the one which fell to defeat against France on Tuesday. His side adopted a 4-3-3 formation, as many teams do at club level.
Fully aware of what was at stake and possibly affected by the shock result earlier in the day which saw Colombia beat France to blow Group F wide open, England started slowly and somewhat nervously.
Mexico, who headed into this encounter on the back of a 1-1 draw with the South American side, looked more comfortable in possession in the opening exchanges but were restricted to a number of hopeful, long-range shots which did little to trouble City’s number one between the sticks.
As England grew in confidence, the creativity and attack-minded display fans were promised became evident.
Kirby spurned her side’s first effort of the evening, firing straight at Aurora Santiago after good, strong work from Bronze – a star performer for her country once again – and fine build-up play from the hard-working Scott.
The Reading striker then saw another shot suffer the same fate before Duggan tried an acrobatic effort but didn’t connect with the ball the way she wanted.
Fara Williams then attempted an audacious lob from distance, which almost paid off, and Jade Moore drove a tame effort as England sought their first strike of the tournament.
Minutes before the break, they almost netted it when Eniola Aluko cut inside and unleashed a powerful effort towards the top corner – only for it to hit the crossbar.
With a huge 45 minutes ahead, both sides entered the break with their manager’s teamtalk fresh in their minds and with renewed optimism.
It was almost a nightmare start to the second period for England though as Bardsley’s first-time clearance fell into the path of Renae Cuellar. Fortunately for the shot-stopper and her side, the resulting effort was straight at the goalkeeper.
Having survived that scare, England continued where they left off. Aluko fired two more efforts goalward, which Santiago was equal to and Williams chipped another shot over.
At the other end, the Mexicans continued to cause a threat on the counter-attack. Sandra Mayor curled into the arms of Bardsley before the ball hit the bar twice in quick succession from a corner. It was end-to-end.
Then, on 70 minutes came the breakthrough.
When a fortunate ricochet on the edge of the box fell to Kirby, there was only one thing in the youngster’s mind. She jinked past her defender before poking the ball in off the post to break the deadlock, sparking delirium for those in white.
She almost netted her second with a curling effort ten minutes later - only for Santiago to push it away to safety.
England did clinch a two-goal cushion though just moments later, as substitute Carney headed in Alex Greenwood’s cross to seemingly ease the nerves.
It wouldn’t play out quite like that though, as Ibarra tapped in a rebound from close range to pull Mexico back into the game in injury time.
It was too little, too late though and England hung on for the win to leapfrog France into second spot in the group.
Next up for Sampson’s side is a clash with Colombia on 17 June.
England: Bardsley, Bronze (A Scott 85), Houghton (c), Bassett, Rafferty (Greenwood 53), J Scott (Carney 66), Williams, Moor, Kirby, Aluko, Duggan.