A goal apiece from Karen Carney and Toni Duggan allowed the England Women’s team to begin their Cyprus Cup defence with a deserved 2-0 victory over Italy.
Birmingham City forward Carney smashed home a penalty on the stroke of half-time after Duggan had been felled inside the box.
Manchester City’s new signing then sealed the win on 62 minutes with a surging run and unerring finish to give new head coach Mark Sampson his maiden international victory in just his second match at the helm.
England Women 2-0 Italy
The Cyprus Cup
Wednesday 5 March
It was a completely dominant performance from his side, who could have won by an even greater margin. Steph Houghton, captain Fara Williams, Ellen White, Karen Carney and Jordan Nobbs all had decent efforts repelled by Italian goalkeeper Laura Giuliani in the opening exchanges, while Lianne Sanderson hit the post in the second half.
This was a game England never looked like losing and they will now head into the second group match on Friday, against Finland, in confident mood.
Sampson made two changes from his first match in charge, a 1-1 draw with Norway in La Manga in January. Injured Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was replaced by new Arsenal stopper Siobhan Chamberlain and Notts County forward White came in for Chelsea striker Eniola Aluko.
And, just as they did against Norway, England started the game on the front foot. They were in total control for the opening quarter of an hour, as White, her former Gunners team-mate Nobbs and Carney all called Giuliani into action early on.
With her palms now warm, the Azzurri No12 then excelled herself, tipping Williams’ 35-yard free-kick behind for a corner. Carney delivered it, Manchester City’s Houghton nodded the ball goalwards but Giuliani again came out on top, flicking the header over the bar from close range.
The reigning champions had set a furious pace and they refused to relent. On 22 minutes, Duggan scampered down the left and cut the ball back to US-based Sanderson. The Boston Breakers striker had time to pick her spot but could only hook a shot narrowly past the post.
The Italians had offered very little in the way of an attacking threat before the half-hour mark, but Chamberlain was still alert enough to hold on comfortably to Cristiana Girelli’s long-ranger after 34 minutes.
That chance aside, it had long looked like it would only be a matter of time before England took the lead – and Elisa Camporese played a large part in her country’s downfall as she tripped Duggan inside the box, forcing the referee to award a penalty.
After a long wait, Carney stepped up and planted the spot-kick into Guiliani’s bottom right-hand corner to ensure the Three Lions had the minimum of leads their first-half dominance merited.
An Ilaria Mauro header could have given Italy an equaliser straight from the restart, but Chamberlain was once more alert to the danger, as she was when tipping Camporese’s cross-cum-shot over the bar shortly after.
With Antonio Cabrini’s side threatening to level matters, which had hitherto looked highly unlikely, Sanderson attempted to give England some breathing space, but her shot on the turn following Carney’s corner bounced back off the far post.
A second goal did arrive shortly after the hour mark, though. Duggan picked up a loose ball 25 yards from goal, and White and Sanderson provided decoy runs which opened up a huge gap in the centre of the Italian defence. The 22-year-old exploited the space, burst into the box and planted an unstoppable shot into the back of the net.
That goal effectively ended the match as a contest and Sampson saw the two-goal cushion as an ample opportunity to hand Everton youngster Alex Greenwood her senior team debut as she replaced the impressive Demi Stokes at left-back for the final ten minutes.
Aluko came on for Nobbs late on and she had two half-chances to put a gloss on a fine England display, but two goals were more than enough to provide an opening day win in Cyprus.
England (4-3-3): 1 Siobhan Chamberlain (Arsenal); 2 Alex Scott (Arsenal), 6 Steph Houghton (Manchester City), 5 Lucy Bronze (Liverpool), 3 Demi Stokes (University of Florida); 8 Fara Williams (C; Liverpool), 7 Karen Carney (Birmingham City), 10 Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal); 20 Ellen White (Notts County), 9 Lianne Sanderson (Boston Breakers), 11 Toni Duggan (Manchester City)
Substitutes: 18 Jill Scott (Manchester City) for Sanderson, 76, 23 Alex Greenwood (Everton) for Stokes, 80, 22 Eniola Aluko (Chelsea) for Nobbs, 85, 14 Laura Bassett (Chelsea) for White, 86
Subs not used: 12 Jade Moore (Birmingham City), 13 Carly Telford (Notts County), 9 Natasha Dowie (Liverpool)
Goals: Karen Carney (pen), 45, Toni Duggan, 62
Bookings: Lianne Sanderson, Toni Duggan
Italy: 12 Laura Giuliani, 2 Elisa Bartoli, 5 Rafaella Manieri, 6 Elena Linari, 10 Martina Rossucci, 11 Elisa Camporese, 13 Federica Di Criscio, 14 Ilaria Mauro, 17 Paola Brumana, 20 Giulia Domenichetti, 21 Cristiana Girelli
Substitutes: 7 Sandy Iannella for Manieri, 55, 16 Marta Carissimi for Brumana, 64, 8 Melania Gabbiadini for Mauro, 64, 9 Patrizia Panico, for Gabbiadini, 75, 15 Giulia Nasuti for Domenichetti, 87
Substitutes not used: 1 Sara Penzo, 3 Roberta D’adda, 4 Alessio Tuttino, 19 Nene Bissoli Nhaga, 22 Arianna Criscione, 23 Cecilia Salvai
Bookings: Cristiana Girelli, Elisa Bartoli, Sandy Iannella