Just like most other international tournaments, the beginning of the UEFA Euro 2017 group stage hasn’t featured the highest quality of play. The players haven’t had much time in training camp together after leaving their club teams, and will likely need a couple of games to start playing their best soccer. Germany was held to a 0-0 draw by Sweden in their opener, while France limped to a 1-0 win over Iceland. Both teams will get better, and will produce the kind of entertaining, high-scoring play they’re known for by the end of the group stage.
Those teams are the two clear favorites. But the bookies’ third choice, England, didn’t need a couple of games to warm up. They were at their absolute best in their first match, demolishing rivals Scotland by the eye-popping score of 6-0. Jodie Taylor netted a hat trick, the first in the tournament since 1997.
England took 10 minutes to score their first goal and never let up from there. Scotland didn’t even play particularly poorly. England just made spectacular play after spectacular play.
The first goal of the night might go down as goal of the tournament. Right back Lucy Bronze set up the chance with a through ball, and though she won’t get credit on the box score, Fran Kirby’s dummy did just as much to set up Taylor as the pass did.
Though Taylor netted a hat trick and was deservedly declared woman of the match, Bronze might have been the best player on the pitch. She never got beaten down her flank She regularly got England’s attack started with pinpoint long balls, like she’s spent her entire career as a deep-lying playmaker. And just in case that wasn’t enough, she put moves on the Scots too.
Taylor scored her second goal off a rebound, and then her hat trick-sealing goal came from just as good of a team move as her first. Captain Steph Houghton supplied the long ball this time around, while Ellen White — who got on the scoreboard in the first half as well — recorded the assist with a headed flick. Taylor’s chipped finish was top quality.
While England were undoubtedly better than Scotland from start to finish, this was not a complete mismatch. Scotland created eight shots and won seven corners. They weren’t good, but they weren’t completely played off the pitch. England had 19 shots and nine on targets — good numbers, but ones you’d expect to produce roughly three goals, not six. This was a truly outstanding and remarkably precise performance from England, and most notably from Taylor, White, Kirby and Bronze.
It would be unwise to make predictions about the Euros on the basis of one set of group stage games. Germany, France and other teams will improve, while England can’t expect to score on one out of every three shots with regularity. But it’s notable that while everyone else is just warming up, England was able to play at full speed from game one. The gap between them and Europe’s big two looks smaller than we thought.