Captain Steph Houghton has challenged England to shed their reputation as slow starters to major tournaments when they begin their Women’s European Championship campaign against Scotland on Wednesday.
The high-stakes clash in Utrecht sees the Lionesses take on a Scotland side who are hampered by the absence of their world-class playmaker Kim Little, absent from the tournament due to a knee injury.
Anything other than a win would be a setback to England, but they have struggled in opening games over the last decade, both in the Euros and at the World Cup.
They have not won a first group fixture since overcoming Finland 3-2 in front of nearly 30,000 supporters at the Etihad Stadium at Euro 2005, a win which proved a false dawn as England were bundled out in the group stages after subsequent losses to Denmark and Sweden.
An early defeat to France at the 2015 World Cup did not stop England finishing third in the tournament, but getting away to a positive start this time would support Houghton and co’s conviction that the team can go all the way in Holland. They play Spain and Portugal later in Group D.
Houghton knows interest in manager Mark Sampson’s team will soar if England strike a winning note immediately against Scotland, but the 29-year-old centre-back said: “Ha ha, that’s easier said than done.
“What a way to start. For us the important thing is we start on the front foot, and no matter if it was Scotland, Spain or Portugal it would be important for us to get something from that first game.
“That’s something we’ve lacked in previous tournaments, and it’s something that we’ll be striving for, to start with a winning mentality and find a way to win to make sure we build the confidence and belief going into the next few games.
“But it’s a rivalry that everybody loves in England and Scotland. It’ll hopefully draw a lot of attention but within the squad it’s up to us to concentrate on ourselves.”
The tournament was getting under way on Sunday as hosts Holland faced Norway and Denmark played Belgium.
For England all the focus is on tackling a side who will be after a big scalp, well aware of the dicey early results suffered by previous incarnations of the Lionesses.
As well as the France loss two years ago, England were beaten by Spain in their Euro 2013 first game, drew with Mexico at the 2011 World Cup, lost to Italy at Euro 2009 and drew with Japan in the 2007 World Cup.
One big threat to England’s chances of grabbing an immediate three points is posed by Houghton’s Manchester City team-mate Jane Ross, the spearhead of Scotland’s attack.
“Jane’s a fantastic player, and I play against her in training every single day with City,” Houghton told Press Association Sport.
“I like to think we know how each other works, and it’s going to be an interesting battle. We’ve got to make sure that the way that we play stifles those sort of players, but also allows us to bring in our best attributes to ensure that we win.”