SCOTLAND’s European Championship debut ended in heavy defeat as England eased to a comfortable 6-0 victory in the ‘Battle of Britain’ in Utrecht.
Jodie Taylor scored a hat-trick for the Lionesses, while Ellen White, Jordan Nobbs and Toni Duggan also netted – leaving Anna Signeul’s side with the prospect of an early exit from the Netherlands, with a win against Portugal on Sunday vital to their quarter-final hopes.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in attendance and she would have been proud of the heart and desire Scotland showed, but they were outclassed.
England turned on the style in the first half, with Taylor grabbing two by the midway point and, although Scotland improved after the break, it was too little too late.
However, for generations of Scotland fans the result plays second fiddle to the occasion. This match was always going to be an historic event after their long wait to qualify for a major international competition finally ended last September – and the passion with which the national anthem was belted out showed how much it meant.
It was fate England were first up and manager Anna Signeul and captain Gemma Fay made no secret of the fact it was the biggest match of their careers.
Unfortunately, injuries had disrupted Scotland’s preparations, with star players Kim Little, Jenny Beattie, Lizzie Arnot and Emma Mitchell all out of the tournament. That, and the potency of England’s attack, played a part in Signeul’s decision to play with five across midfield in support of lone striker Jane Ross who, despite her pedigree, was always up against it in her bid to pierce a defence that conceded just once in qualification. Yet Manchester City striker Ross went close in the opening minute, wrapping her foot around the ball from 30 yards and forcing England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley to tip the dipping shot over the bar.
In true England-Scotland style, it was a breathless start with Fran Kirby, described by England coach Mark Sampson as a mini Lionel Messi, scampering down the wing and forcing a corner at the end of a fine counter-attack.
England settled quickly and hit the front in the tenth minute as Kirby, finding a pocket of space 40 yards from goal, flicked a quick pass through for Taylor to latch onto and the striker coolly slipped it past Fay. Scotland held their own in the aftermath, sucking up England’s pressure, while they also caused a few problems from set-pieces and down either wing, with Lisa Evans and Fina Brown particularly dangerous.
But England just had too much and they stretched their lead midway through the half as Taylor stroked a bouncing ball into the corner after Scotland failed to deal with a Nobbs free-kick.
England’s tails were up and Kirby, along with Nobbs, were picking holes in Scotland’s five-strong midfield with clever movement and vision. Their third goal just after the half-hour mark came as Jill Scott’s long-range effort cannoned off the bar and fell perfectly for White to steer the ball into the corner past a helpless Fay for her seventh goal in nine games.
Scotland regained their composure after that and held out until the break, but England continued to display why they are considered one of the favourites to lift the trophy in three weeks time, as White flicked on a long pass expertly and Taylor completed her hat-trick with a well-judged lob.
Signeul responded by bringing off star player Ross, perhaps to ensure she is at her best for their crunch game with Portugal on Sunday, and replacing her with Chelsea star Erin Cuthbert.
England continued to create chances and Nobbs crashed home a spectacular volley in the dying minutes before substitute Toni Duggan flicked in from close range.
Signeul may be disappointed in the immediate aftermath but Scotland’s hopes of qualifying from Group D are not over yet, with Portugal and Spain still to come. Spain beat their Iberian rivals 2-0, so Portugal provide Scotland with their best chance if picking up a victory when they face off in Rotterdam this weekend.
Scotland coach Signeul insisted her team would learn from the defeat. She said: “I think it was a really tough debut for us and I think we played against a very good side in England, who are a contender for this tournament.
“They were good in all areas but we knew that. We were disappointed to lose so many goals but we learn from this, work on our resilience and come back.
“It is not over for us. We came here as a team. We had losses in personnel but we win as a team and lose as a team. In a few days time we play Portugal and we pick ourselves up and we rise again, that is what Scotland stands for.”
England (4-2-3-1): Bardsley, Bronze, Houghton (capt), Bright, Stokes, Moore, J Scott, Nobbs, Kirby (Parris 64), White (Carney 74), Taylor (Duggan 59).
Scotland (4-5-1): Fay (capt), Brown, Dieke, Barsley, Arthur, Corsie (Love 76), Evans, Crichton, Weir, Brown (Clelland 45), Ross (Cuthbert 63).
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