Recently-hired England Women’s soccer head coach Phil Neville’s debut was a rousing success in his team’s 4-1 victory over France in the first leg of the SheBelieves Cup in Columbus.
MAPFRE Stadium and Ohio played host to the anticipated first look at the former coach at Manchester United, Valencia, and England’s U-21 team. The Lionesses’ victory was their first against France in nearly 44 years, and they hit the four-goal mark for the first time since 1975.
“I’ll be honest with you, I expected it,” Neville said. “I didn’t expect a tight game. I expected goals. And so did the players.”
“When you’re a new manager and you’re trying to instill new beliefs, I think it’s important that you get a good result,” Neville said. “It reinforces that what we’re doing is right here and there’s an enjoyment.”
The former Everton star and England National Team defender was hired in January to some surprise and critique. Despite nearly 60 appearances for England and six Premier League titles, he is fairly unproven as a head coach, especially of a women’s team. A record-setting first victory will serve the decorated Neville well.
“There is great expectation,” Neville said. “I actually love the expectation. I was on the bus on the way to the grounds today and it felt right. It felt right when we stood in the technical area. The thing is, the players are enjoying the expectation, the raised profile and they worked their socks off.”
Ranked third in the world, England jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the time the first half had concluded. Forward Toni Duggan scored in just the seventh minute before goals by midfielder Jill Scott and forward Jodie Taylor in the 28th and 39th minutes, respectively.
The second half kicked off with another England goal by forward Fran Kirby in the 46th minute to bring the lead to 4-0, before France midfielder Gaetane Thiney found the net in the 77th minute in what was the last score of the contest.
Signing on for three years as a replacement for Mark Sampson and interim Mo Marley, Neville will prepare for the 2019 World Cup in France. His third-ranked England squad will start with the top in its next two matches with top-ranked United States and No. 2 Germany.
“I had the butterflies before the game, but my players didn’t,” Neville said. “And that’s the most important thing.”
The United States, England, Germany, and France will continue the SheBelieves Cup in the coming days as the remaining legs take place on March 4 and 7 in Harrison, NJ and Orlando, FL, respectively.