Nice, the fifth largest city in France is a city that acts as a magnet all year round attracting people from all over the world, for a multitude of reasons. People come not only for its terraced cafes and rich architectural culture but also for its research in industry, science and advanced technology.
This is the French Riviera’s largest city if not its most glamourous thanks to the near neighbour of Cannes. The city’s beauty comes from the 19th century mansions on its promenades and boulevards but also from the city’s Italianate old quarter and the rugged natural terrain that provides countless wondrous vantage points.
If people come for the sun and the beach they also on a beautiful Sunday afternoon came for football by way of the 2019 FIFA Womens World Cup Group D match. The city of Nice – alongside Rennes, Montpellier, Lyon, Le Harve, Grenoble, Paris, Rheims and Valenciennes – is a host for the world premier womens football event with a number of matches due to be held at the Allianz Riviera ‘Stade de Nice’.
FIFA Womens World Cup Group D
England vs. Scotland
Allianze Riviera ‘Stade de Nice
Sunday 9th July 2019
6pm Kick Off
Despite the historical significance of the game to both nations as well as the importance of the fixture in terms of Group D, a simple walk around the centre of Nice on the day of the match gave little indication that a World Cup football match was taking place.
Yes, when I got off the train at Gare de Nice there were adverts about the 2019 FIFA World Cup and there were a few images of the French national team squad on billboards but you would have had to look hard to see them.
While your average French football fan could put a name to an image of Higo Lloris or Didier Deschamps its doubtful the same person could tell you whom Gaëtane Thiney or the team coach Corinne Diacre were by looking at pics of them.
The reason is simple – the mens game is more popular both in France and globally – it always has been and always will be. A record 3.572 billion people watched the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia via TV sets at home or on digital platforms.
Over the 64 matches in Russia the average live audience was 191 million: each game being a global televisual event in its own right.
During UEFA Euro 2016 which took place 3 years before, on any chosen game day a host city would have been swamped with interest thanks to the number of fans around. The Group fixture between Poland and Northern Ireland played on 12th June 2016 attracted almost 34,000 fans dwarfing the 20,000 expected at Scotland against England in Group D.
Indeed if you are more used to visiting mens elite football tournaments such as the World Cup or European Championships you would have been shocked to see how low key everything was football wise around Nice.
Before Euro 2017 where the Scotland national side met Spain, England and Portugal the SWNT womens entered into a dispute with the national footballing association the Scottish FA. While there would appear to be no clear way to judge the stance of either side in the dispute (since neither side made full comment either on or off the record) it is though that the arguments centred around financial rewards for qualifying and payment for time off work.
Essentially the true details of the grievances have never entered the public domain but the complaints were thought to have been headed up by specific senior members of the playing squad following behind closed doors discussions between several senior players.
Eventually a solution was agreed between all parties some two weeks before the event in Holland took place but Scotland headed into that tournament in far from a positive mental state. Preparation games for the tournament meanwhile back in Scotland were watched by sparse crowds with the national team not getting anywhere near the national Hampden Park stadium.
Perhaps then lessons had been learned by the powers at be within Hampden. With a new forthright coach at the helm in Shelley Kerr qualification in Autumn 2018 saw the Scottish Government step in with a promise of significant financial reward for players to train ‘full time’ in the lead up to the event.
High profile friendly matches meanwhile were organised against the likes of the US national team, this years favourites for the France World Cup. Even more significant was the send off for the squad not one week before departure for France. In late May 2019 a host of fans came to see Scotland play against fellow qualifiers Jamaica at Hampden Park in a match watched by almost 19,000 supporters.
In contrast the England side, amongst the world’s best female teams, lost its final preparation game against New Zealand by 1-0 in Brighton. Moreover concerns were raised in the press about squad player fitness particularly with the tournament coming at the sharp end of a long intensive domestic season. Evidence for this was that UEFA Euro 2017 in Holland had not started until July 16th with Scotland not facing England until the 19th July.
Nice – 4pm Sunday 9th June 2019
Beside the fan park in downtown central Nice a selection of Scottish and English fans mingled before the game. By 5pm thoughts had turned to getting out to the Allianz Riviera Stadium some 10.2km outside the city centre district.
Simply by the feel outside the stadium at 5.30pm you could tell that the game was nowhere near the capacity crowd that FIFA had predicted. There were no queues at the entry gates, no crowded entry zones and the free shuttle buses to the stadium had barely been full.
Inside the predicable FIFA marketing brands existed side by side with the competition ‘Dare to Shine‘ logo. The tournament mascot meanwhile, a French poussin named ettie, scurried around the pitch side giving out hugs to anyone that wanted one having learned it seemed from her father Footix another in a long line of feathered mascots who was the Official Mascot from the 1998 FIFA World Cup France.
Its worth noting that the sound of the team player names, when read out by the stadium announcer, added a new somewhat comedy like tone to the pre match festivities. Ellen White being called Ellen Blanc and Scotland substutute Kirsty Smith being titled Kristy Smitty were only two of the daft mispronunciations.
By kick off the stadium was less than half full with the actual attendence of 13,188 announced midway through the second half.
While consternation had followed the English defeat to New Zealand Scotland went into the tournament with hope if not expectation of a win against the English.
The figure of Nikita Parris was the first to come to the fore leaping into celebration for her first World Cup goal thanks to a VAR penalty that was awarded by the ball striking Nicola Docherty’s arm. This as it turned out was one of many VAR penalties awarded by tournament referees with the event become famous for the telltake rectangle motion of the referee post video playback. Running off in celebration she grabbed the Three lions badge as watching Scotland fans looked on gloomily.
With that goal thoughts returned to England replicating the 6-0 triumph at Euro 2017 such was the English dominance on the pitch and Scotland’s inability to get going.
A goal was then chalked off and Lee Alexander in the Scottish goal made a number of fine saves to keep the scoreline respectable. There was though time for White to add England’s second goal. Rachel Corsie miscued a tackle on Fran Kirby and White pounced on the loose ball to finish easily past Alexander.
England started the second half as the ended the opening period – namely in cruise control. It took Beth Mead less than 1 minute to convert White’s delivery from deep but England were denied, again, by the Assistants flag as they had been in the opening period.
Thereafter, Scotland came into it managing possession better and taking the game to England. Parris so full of running in the first half disappeared out of the game and the weather could not be blamed for her fading as quite simply it wasn’t that warm in Nice.
The Scots enjoying a sustained period of pressure deep in England’s half with Kim Little the dynamic Arsenal captain sending in dangerous corners that Bardsley struggled to cope with.
Scotland pushed a tired looking England with subs Arthur, Arnot and Smith adding a new dimension to Scottish play in the second half. Eventually Lisa Evans capitalised on a Houghton error and a through ball was tucked home by Emslie of Man City.
But it wasn’t enough and the bigger picture was that Scotland had started the game too slowly.
On the big stage some of the Scotland team were found as wanting as the missing spectators. Lee Alexander in goal showed shot stopping capability but was lost at cross balls.
Nicola Docherty the left back of Glasgow City, surprisingly chosen for the squad ahead of Emma Mitchell, was targetted by the English forwards from the word go. Nutmegged and turned endlessly by English attacking play the left back struggled to show any sort of quality and was replaced on 55 minutes by Smith of Manchester United more or less a beaten player. Christie Murray of Liverpool meanwhile looked too diminutive on the pitch while Lisa Evans and the late replacement Arnot, such big hopes before the tournament, simply did not offer nowhere near enough quality.
England (4-3-3): Bardsley (Man City); Bronze (Lyon), Houghton (Man City), Bright (Chelsea) (McManus, Man Utd 55mins), Greenwood (Man Utd); Scott (Man City), Kirby (Chelsea, Stanway Man City 82), Walsh (Man City); Parris (Lyon), White (Man City), Mead (Arsenal, Carney – Chelsea 71mins).
Subs not used: Telford (Chelsea), Earps (Wolfsburg), Taylor (Seattle Reign), Williamson (Arsenal), Moore (Reading), Daly (Houston Dash), Staniforth (Birmingham City)
Scotland (4-5-1) Alexander (Glasgow City); Howard (Reading, Arthur 75mins Birmingham City), Corsie (Utah Royals), Beattie (Man City), Docherty (Glasgow City, Smith 55mins Man Utd); Evans (Arsenal), C. Murray (Liverpool, Arnot 87mins Man Utd), Little (Arsenal), Weir (Man City), Emslie (Man City); Cuthbert (Chelsea)
Bookings: Beattie, Docherty
Subs not used: Lynn (Vittsjo GIK), Fife (Hibernian), Love (Glasgow City), Lauder (Glasgow City), Crichton (Glasgow City), Ross (West Ham), J. Murray (Hibernian), Clelland (Fiorentina), Brown (Rosengard)