The Women’s EUROS kicked off with the host country facing Austria at Old Trafford in Manchester, UK in front of a record crowd of 68,871. This tournament will also be new Lionesses head coach Sarina Wiegman’s first major international tournament in charge of England.
To mark the occasion, she named a starting XI with two Chelsea players, Millie Bright at center back and Fran Kirby as her central attacking midfielder. The full squad on the day also included Chelsea defender Jess Carter and striker Bethany England, though neither saw minutes in this match
However, it was a delight to see Fran Kirby not just fit, and not just fit enough to play, but fit enough to be central to Wiegman’s attacking plans. Remember, this comes off of Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes and Kirby coming to the decision to a midseason decision for her to step away from the team as she dealt with a sudden onset of extreme fatigue. Kirby’s last game in a Chelsea shirt was the 0-0 draw with Arsenal on 11 February.
The time allowed Kirby and team doctors to diagnose and treat her symptoms, which she slowly recovered from. This isn’t the first time Hayes has looked out for the best interest of Fran Kirby the person ahead of Fran Kirby the Footballer. The two have a deeply unique relationship that is rare at the top levels of football. Seeing Kirby fit and starting for England in the EUROS, knowing her quite recent struggles, was a beautiful moment crafted by care, trust and appreciation.
Kirby, as she is wont to do, repaid all of it in the only way she knows how: by being really damn good on the football pitch.
In the 16th minute Kirby sent a flat looping pass skimming the head of an Austrian defenders and thudding onto the chest of Beth Mead. The Arsenal winger controlled the ball and lofted it over her club compatriot, Austrian goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger.
Beth Mead gives England the lead!— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 6, 2022
What a ball from Fran Kirby pic.twitter.com/EEVZr1HSjw
The shot bounced off the grass before being punted onto the underside of the bar by a defender and bouncing back into play. With no intervention from the referee players on the pitch were either in the midst of celebration, appeals, or playing on in hopeful ignorance. Eventually the referee halted play and gave the goal, which goaline technology eventually confirmed.
The rest of the match would not go as sweetly as the start would suggest. Though England dominated possession, Austria defended well and were constantly one well shaped pass away from finding an equalizer. Austrian attacking midfielder Laura Feiersinger and center back Carina Wenninger deserve special mentions for the work they put in throughout the match. Wenninger in particular stepped out to engage England’s dangerous wingers and, on more than one occasion, won the ball.
Fran Kirby created a couple more chances, including a trademark square ball across the box to the feet of Lauren Hemp that the Manchester City winger couldn’t control or hit first time. Frustratingly for England supporters a second goal remained agonizingly out of reach, and that pesky doomsayer that lives in the back of their brains continued to whisper louder until the final whistle.
In the end, the job was done and the points collected. Fran Kirby recovered from illness, made the team, started the game, and assisted the lone goal.