Women's Euros: Resilient Lionesses show another string to their bow to defeat Spain

By Sports Desk July 20, 2022

When England came off the pitch at the Amex Stadium against Norway nine days ago, they had just wiped the floor with their Group A opponents, dispatching them 8-0.

Suffice to say the return to Brighton to face Spain in the last eight was a more difficult encounter for Sarina Wiegman's side, but they showed true grit and determination to advance to the semi-finals at the Women’s European Championships.

Spain had been the last team to stop England from winning, with their 0-0 draw in February being the final result before the Lionesses went on a nine-game winning streak (now 10). They were also the only side that England had failed to score against in their first 17 games under Wiegman.

However, a hard-working performance from the hosts saw them come from behind to secure a 2-1 extra-time victory, eliminating one of the other pre-tournament favourites.

Prior to the game, La Roja boss Jorge Vilda appeared to be playing mind games, aiming to put pressure on his opponents.

"If I imagine Spain playing a quarter-final against England, in a home Euros they had organised, a Spain team playing in a big Spanish stadium, I imagine this would weigh on us. I think this could take away more than it gives," he said at his pre-match news conference.

He appeared to be correct as England struggled to find anything like the fluency they enjoyed in recent games for much of normal time, whether it was nerves or a well-executed Spain gameplan.

It was a tentative start on the English south coast, clear immediately that Spain would be a tougher proposition than Norway. They had lost only one game (v Germany in the group stage) in their previous 26 international matches (W21 D4), so were always going to be a hard nut for England to crack.

Mariona Caldentey was causing problems for Lucy Bronze down the Spain left and had the first shot on target after 16 mins as the visitors started to impose their possession game, giving England a problem they were yet to face in the tournament so far.

Olga Carmona was tasked with keeping tournament top scorer Beth Mead quiet and achieved just that as the England star was unable to exert any authority on the game.

Despite being largely on the back foot, the hosts thought they had taken the lead in the 37th minute when a free-kick was headed down into the path of Ellen White, who fired home, only for an offside flag to correctly go up, with White denied the chance to equal Wayne Rooney's England record of 53 goals.

Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas was an obvious miss for Vilda's side. The Barcelona captain finished as the Champions League's top goalscorer with 11 goals last season and ended her domestic campaign with 18.

Spain's most capped player (100), who also won the FIFA Best Women's Player award in 2021, will miss the next 10-12 months with an ACL injury, and would have likely been a key factor in this one as La Roja dominated the ball for large spells but struggled to find their way through Wiegman's team.

England, who were 6-0 up at half-time when they played Norway, managed just the one shot in the opening 45 minutes here, and that did not arrive until the 40th minute, with Spain having six.

The Lionesses started the second half brightly, though, noticeably pressing higher up the pitch and with more fervour.

However, it was half-time Spain substitute, Athenea del Castillo, who produced a bit of magic to open the scoring, jinking inside Rachel Daly from the right before cutting back to Esther Gonzalez, who turned and finished well past Mary Earps in the 54th minute.

Wiegman responded by making her own substitutions, surprisingly removing Mead and White for Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly.

It almost made a difference straight away as Russo flicked a ball on for Lauren Hemp, who was brought down in the penalty area, but referee Stephanie Frappart waved away the claims much to the annoyance of the vocal home fans.

It appeared England had given all they had, until another substitute made the difference as Ella Toone ran onto a Russo knockdown to prod the ball past Sandra Panos and equalise with six minutes remaining.

That forced extra-time and momentum swung in England's favour as Georgia Stanway went on a run through the middle before unleashing a ferocious strike past Panos from 25 yards to send the home fans into raptures.

Stanway's effort was the 100th goal England have scored under Wiegman in just her 18th game in charge, and the 11th from outside the penalty area.

It was now Spain who looked like they had run out of ideas, and despite a couple of minor scares, England held on to seal their place in the final four and show they may not always need to dominate games to get the job done.

A great roar went up from the 28,994 in attendance in Brighton, enough to frighten the local seagulls, as England celebrated a hard-fought victory.

If the thrashing of Norway had shown what England were capable of when at full flow, this win displayed another weapon in the arsenal that the hosts will likely have to call on again if they are to go all the way.

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