A capacity crowd, a pyrotechnics display and the knowledge that a win was crucial was enough to set nerves jangling for both England and USA.
There was visible tension in the faces of both squads as they lined up for the national anthems. Alex Danson was able to muster a smile as the crowd and players acknowledged her 200th cap for England – a figure that catapults her into a rarefied group of players who have represented England 200 times (this does not include Great Britain caps).
The opening half was a cagey affair with both sides probing for breaks in their opponent’s defence but staunch defending meant the teams entered the half-time break at 0-0.
This did not mean there was any lack of action. Hannah Martin used her speed to create space but missed her shot. Michelle Vitesse sparked an attack that saw Maddie Hinch pull off a tremendous save in the England goal and then Jackie Briggs was called on to make a save as Susannah Townsend’s shot sent the ball high in the air and off the cross bar. Briggs was quickest to the ball and thwarted the incoming England attackers.
Possibly the moment of the World Cup, from a host nation perspective, took place in the 34th minute when Alex Danson weaved her way through the USA defence and slotted the ball home to give England the lead.
The roar of the crowd was ear-splitting and for a few minutes England looked in the ascendency.
But USA are not a team to ever give up and, in the shape of teenager Erin Matson, they have a fearless striker. Matson picked the ball up on the wide left and drove towards the circle. Her position seemed innocuous but the shot that rasped off her reverse stick left Hinch stranded and the scores even.
As the game counted down, the tempo rose in both camps and the work rate of the athletes reached even higher levels.
Sophie Bray was in a race to the ball with Briggs, which left the England player in a heap. There was no quarter given by either team as they both searched for the elusive breakthrough. A tremendous save by Hinch in the closing seconds of the game was met with a sigh and as the teams trooped off the pitch it was clear both sets of players could not have given more.
“That was tough,” was Laura Unsworth’s reaction as she reflected on the game. “I think we limited USA to just a few chances, in fact I only really remember the shot that led to the goal. Two very fit teams were going at each other which will always result in a tight game.”
Unsworth also reflected on the moment Danson scored her goal. “It was a very special moment, on the occasion of her 200th cap. Everyone gets goosebumps when the crowds get behind us and when Alex scored that was just another level.”
Erin Matson, who scored USA’s goal said: “We have played in front of big crowds but nothing like that. Our team is good at embracing that and running with the energy and I personally love a loud crowd. It did go a bit silent after I scored.
“Our way to think about things is to move on and take it one game at a time. We didn’t play to our strengths in the first game so tonight it was about playing for us and not worrying about what we need to do about the other team.
“Without the pass from Gonz (Melissa Gonzalez) I wouldn’t have scored. She held the ball and fed it at the perfect moment. It happens quite a bit in practice and I am confident on my reverse.”
Images: Peter Smith - SmifSports