England face adversity and overcome it, in a chaotic 120 minutes.
Updated: Jul 22
Very much contrary to Spain’s last group game, this was a classic.
So good, we went 120 whole minutes without a Mexican wave.
It was nearly a story of Spain just being too good for England, but England had other ideas and Spain fluffed it, a bit.
Spain looked to have found more rhythm.
Spain were playing the best that they had played in the tournament so far, by a country mile. Aitana Bonmati and Mariano Caldentey (and Athenea Del Castillo when she came on at half time) were running the show.
In the first half, England were doing enough without the ball. With the ball though, borderline awful. The Lionesses were not causing Spain any problems. The attempted playing out from the back looked very dodgy. The wingers were not in the game. Any success was coming from being more direct, which wasn’t happening much.
Ellen White did have the ball in the net but was offside, White also dragged a header wide, in the only two notable opportunities for England in the first half.
Spain took the lead 10 minutes into the second half, through decent enough play. The defending however, was not good.
Rachel Daly got sent to the shops and back by Del Castillo, then Millie Bright ran away from eventual goal scorer Esther Gonzalez to cover the goal line for some very bizarre reason. Gonzalez was left with all the time in the world to control and finish Del Castillo’s cross.
Bright was fantastic for the rest of the game but that was not her finest moment, to say the least.
England did react well to going behind but had Mary Earps to thank for it not being 2-0. Earps had to backpedal rather quickly to tip Del Castillo’s mishit cross over the bar.
Substitutions shift the game.
The tried and tested substitutes came on for England again, Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly first. Wiegman took Beth Mead off which was a bold move given her form and given that Lauren Hemp was not having the best of times. Ella Toone came on for Fran Kirby about 5 minutes later.
England were still playing a risky game, Del Castillo was absolutely ripping Rachel Daly apart every time she got the ball, despite Daly’s endless endeavour. Subsequently, Alex Greenwood replaced Daly.
The substitutes once again changed the game for England. Spain made substitutions of their own, but they had the opposite effect, favouring a more conservative approach, easing off on England late in the second half.
With 6 minutes remaining and hope dwindling, Ella Toone drew England level. Hemp did well down the right hand side sending a cross into the box, Russo proved her worth again winning the ball in the air against Irene Paredes, leaving Toone to volley it in from close range.
The Amex erupted. Spain quite frankly lost their heads, furiously claiming a foul on Paredes. Although winning a header is not a foul, so not exactly sure where they were coming from.
Extra time it was. 6 minutes into which
Georgia Stanway blew the (figurative) roof off of the Amex again. She carried the ball from near the halfway line. The Spanish defenders backed off and backed off. Stanway smashed it into the top left corner. Scenes, and a half.
*Whilst we’re talking about Stanway. She was not really talked about as one of England’s ‘players to watch’ coming into this tournament. She is now. Leah Williamson was expected to start in midfield but after her rather last minute switch back to centre half, the responsibility has been on Stanway. She’s been one of England’s standouts.
Where’s golden goal when you need it? The remaining 25 minutes of extra time were about as edgy as you would imagine. Spain had opportunities, but did not manage to find a shot on target. England could’ve done a slightly better job at keeping the ball when they had it. Just to make it a tad less stressful.
England held on and for the first time in the tournament, fought through adversity to win a game against the pre tournament favourites, who put together their best performance of the tournament.
The usually serene Sarina Wiegman was potentially the most excited person in the stadium at full time. Must’ve been killing her trying to maintain her calm persona.
England go on. It was rather important that they avoided a quarter final exit in their home tournament.
Strangely enough, a win like that will likely build confidence more than smashing Norway, at their worst, 8-0. Managing to beat a Spain team who looked the best they have in a while. Dragging themselves through large periods of Spain domination. But still winning.
Sweden or Belgium in Sheffield await on Tuesday.
There are some question marks. Ellen White and Fran Kirby were essentially anonymous. Russo and Toone however, did very well when they came on. Wiegman likes consistently and the substitutes have been extremely effective in the substitute role. Will Wiegman want to change that role? Perhaps not, but she might surprise us. Wiegman loves a plan.