The United States launched their bid for an unprecedented third consecutive Women’s World Cup crown with a 3-0 win over Vietnam on Saturday, as fellow favourites England were set to enter the fray.
The 22-year-old attacker Sophia Smith was the star of the show at Eden Park in Auckland, scoring twice and setting up captain Lindsey Horan for the third in front of just over 41,000 fans.
The only sour note for Vlatko Andonovski’s side, which featured six World Cup debutants at kick-off, was that they were not more ruthless in front of goal.
They had 27 attempts to Vietnam’s none and Alex Morgan missed a first-half penalty.
“At the end I just felt we needed to be a little bit better with the final shot,” said the coach.
“We created opportunities, we had a penalty kick, obviously enough to score a few more goals, but there are lots of positives from game one going into game two.”
Next up for the Americans, who brought veteran Megan Rapinoe off the bench for the last 30 minutes, are the Dutch in a re-run of the 2019 final. The US won that game 2-0 to retain their title.
“I think it is a good place to start and personally it was good to just get a World Cup game under my belt and see how it felt,” said Smith after enjoying a dream debut at the tournament.
“I think it honestly just makes me more excited for the next game.”
The United States matched the scoreline of Spain, who were also easy winners — but similarly wasteful at times — against Costa Rica on Friday.
The US and Spain are two of the World Cup favourites and another one in England launch their title bid at 0930 GMT.
Sarina Wiegman’s European champions will be expected to beat World Cup debutants Haiti in Brisbane by much the same scoreline as the Americans and La Roja.
However, England’s build-up has been overshadowed by a row over bonuses for the Lionesses and their form has been patchy.
They are also missing three key players — captain Leah Williamson, Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner Beth Mead and Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, all ruled out before the tournament with injuries.
– Weight of history –
The USA win kicked off a bumper third day of the World Cup, with four matches.
The 2011 champions Japan play Zambia, the lowest-ranked team in the competition, in Wellington at 0700 GMT.
Then comes the game in Brisbane, before the action concludes for the day in Perth for China against Denmark at 1200 GMT.
Sweden, France and the Netherlands all feature on Sunday.
Sweden will not be weighed down by a series of near-misses when they launch their latest World Cup bid, coach Peter Gerhardsson said.
The third-ranked Swedes face South Africa and Gerhardsson is adamant that history will not be a factor.
Sweden will be expected to beat the African champions and go on to qualify from their group.
That would continue an enviable run of consistency for the Scandinavian side, who have only once failed to advance to the knockout phase at all eight previous World Cups.
But they have never gone on to win the trophy, their best performance being runners-up to Germany in 2003.
“History’s history and the future is the future, you can only live where we are now,” Gerhardsson said.
“For us, I like the word ‘possibility’ because you can feel it, you can win many games and you can win tournaments.
“The focus is on the first game, you can’t be weighing your mind on what’s going to happen after then.”