STYLISH in bursts, and steely when they needed to be, England’s campaign at Women’s Euro 2022 is up and running.

Beth Mead’s chipped first-half finish ensured the Lionesses took all three points from their opening group game against an obdurate Austrian side at Old Trafford, and while the flair that saw Sarina Wiegman’s side carve out a host of decent chances before the interval largely disappeared in a somewhat flat second half, a degree of functionality is not to be sniffed at amid the cut and thrust of a major tournament.

Understandably, supporters of women’s football have grown tired of constant comparisons with the men’s game, but it is nevertheless worth pointing out that a little over 12 months’ ago, England’s men’s side won the opening game of their Euros on home soil courtesy of 1-0 victory that was a little more comfortable than the scoreline suggested. And that tournament didn’t turn out too badly in the end.

Last night’s victory was hard-earned but thoroughly deserved, with England outplaying their opponents in the first half before digging in when things threatened to become edgy late on. There has been a lot of talk about the Lionesses’ attacking quality in the build-up to the Euros, but last night, it was the defensive resolve of Mille Bright and Leah Williamson in particular that proved crucial. Again, having a pair of in-form centre-halves is no bad thing in a tournament setting.

In the stands, this summer’s Euros are already shaping up to be a huge success for the women’s game. The sight of almost 70,000 supporters packing into Old Trafford last night underlined just how far women’s football has come since the Euros were last staged in England in 2005. Back then, group games were staged at Warrington’s rugby league ground because there were not enough football clubs willing to host matches. Seventeen years on, and with the Women’s Super League now fully professional and the profile of women’s football in this country never having been higher, it is safe to say that the landscape has changed.

Standards have unquestionably improved on the pitch too, although like England’s men’s side, the women have found winning a major trophy a frustratingly difficult task. The Lionesses have made the semi-finals of the last three major tournaments, but not won any of them. With the benefit of home advantage, and buoyed by a 14-match unbeaten run leading into last night’s group opener, the challenge facing Wiegman and her players is to go all the way this time around. All things being equal, this was not a bad start.

Given the raucous pre-match atmosphere, enlivened by an opening ceremony packed with pyrotechnics, it was unsurprising that both sides were somewhat edgy in the early stages.

Williamson’s error in her own 18-yard box enabled Sarah Zadrazil to fire in a shot that was blocked, but as the game settled down, so it was England that rapidly began to dominate, with Bright’s long passing sparking a series of dangerous attacks that saw both Mead and Lauren Hemp cause problems by cutting in from their respective flanks.

Hemp headed over in the 12th minute as she burst in at the back post to meet Lucy Bronze’s cross, and four minutes later, it was Mead’s willingness to break into the 18-yard box that resulted in England claiming the lead.

Fran Kirby’s through ball enabled Mead to break beyond the Austrian defence, and while Manuela Zinsberger came to meet her, the Arsenal striker lofted a deft chip over the goalkeeper’s head. Carina Wenninger desperately hacked clear from underneath her own crossbar, but the ball had clearly crossed the line and the goal was awarded.

It was a landmark moment for Mead, born in Whitby, spotted by the scouts of Middlesbrough’s academy and nurtured as part of Sunderland Ladies. These are early days, but the 27-year-old could easily end up as one of the stars of the tournament.

The same is true of Hemp, and the Manchester City winger almost set up a second goal midway through the first half when she picked out Ellen White with a picture-perfect cross from the left, only for the England striker to direct her header wide.

Hemp would almost certainly have added a second England goal on the stroke of half-time had Kirby not overhit her square ball across the box after White won possession deep in the Austrian half. Hemp had to stretch to control, and while she got a shot away, Zinsberger was able to close her down and block her goal-bound effort.

A two-goal lead would really have been no more than the hosts deserved, but for as long as they remained just one goal behind, so Austria were still a threat. Indeed, England’s opponents were the more threatening side in the early stages of the second half, and Katarina Naschenweng served notice of their growing intent as she flashed a shot narrowly over the bar after creating space on the left of the area.

England’s stuttering start to the second period forced Wiegman to turn to her young attacking corps, with Ella Toone, Chloe Kelly and Alessia Russo all leaving the substitutes’ bench. If the intention was to enhance the home side’s attacking threat, it didn’t really work, so Wiegman’s side saw out the closing stages thanks to reliable efforts of their rock-solid defence.

Bright and Williamson successfully shackled Austria’s lone striker, Nicole Billa, and England became increasingly reliant on Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway, who formed an effective screen in front of the back four. It was largely thanks to Bright’s efforts in particular that England goalkeeper Mary Earps was not seriously threatened until the 78th minute, when she flung herself to her left to claw away Barbara Dunst’s long-range strike.