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Record crowd sees England women off to winning start

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – England manager Sarina Wiegman hailed a record crowd of 69,000 as a testament to how far the women’s game has come, as the Lionesses started Euro 2022 with a 1-0 win over Austria.

The attendance smashed the previous best for a match at the women’s European Championship by nearly 30,000.

The vast majority inside the Theatre of Dreams got what they wanted to see as Beth Mead’s early goal ensured the hosts claimed victory despite a sub-par performance.

“It was incredible, (there are) no more words,” said Wiegman.

“It is unbelievable, from where we’ve come from, to be playing here at Old Trafford in front of 70,000. I hope they keep coming and they will because we’ve sold out stadiums.”

Home advantage is just one of the reasons why England are considered among the favourites to win their first ever major tournament.

England’s Beth Mead celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Women’s Euro 2022 football match between England and Austria at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. PHOTO: AP

Wiegman, who led the Netherlands to victory at Euro 2017, is now unbeaten in 15 games since taking charge in September. The weight of expectation appeared heavy on the hosts in a nervous start.

However, they kicked the tournament into life in style on 16 minutes when Fran Kirby’s lofted pass picked out Mead and the Arsenal forward calmly lifted the ball over her club teammate Manuela Zinsberger.

Carina Wenninger made a desperate attempt to clear but the ball had just crossed the line before she intervened.

England then settled into the rhythm that has seen them score 85 goals and concede just three in the Wiegman era.

England face Norway next in Brighton on Monday in what is expected to be their toughest test of the group stages.