The atmosphere in Brighton for this quarter final tie was electric before kick off, just as it should be as two tournament favourites met in what was the biggest match of the tournament so far. Spain were the out and out favourites before the tournament however injury to their star player Alexia Putellas and England’s remarkable group stage form means it was the lionesses who were expected to progress on Wednesday evening.
Sarina Weigman named another unchanged starting eleven for this one and straight from kick off Ellen White closed down their keeper and the ball hit her in the face from about a yard away. It almost completely killed the atmosphere which is what Spain would have wanted, albeit not in that fashion.
Spain started the game well, moved the ball confidently and pressed England when out of possession, making the hosts look a touch nervy. The lionesses had little of the ball to begin with which was to be expected against this Spanish side.
After 20 minutes there wasn’t much to shout about with Spain still having the better of proceedings. One thing worth noting was along with their quality, the Spaniards weren’t afraid of a tackle or leaving a bit on their opponents and their press was forcing plenty of turnovers. Something the Lionesses hadn’t experienced so far this summer.
The game continued to huff and puff, very competitive but not much quality was on display. That was until the 36th minute when England had a set piece which was whipped into the middle, not dealt with by the Spanish defence and converted from close range by Ellen White! A lengthy VAR check followed checking all sorts until it was eventually ruled out for offside. Probably correctly as well to be fair.
England took that missed opportunity as fuel and raised their game, the crowd responded too but it still wasn’t enough to trouble their opponents. At half time the game was goalless and although England had managed to keep much more possession than expected, it was Spain who went in the happier at half time.
England did start the second half on the front foot but again couldn’t fashion any real chances. Then things took a turn for the worst. Half time substitute Del Castillo received the ball on the right, took a touch into the box after Rachel Daly flew in (and was completely skinned). Then all she had to do was lay it into the striker, Esther, who finished low and accurately into the corner. 1-0 to Spain.
Wiegman responded immediately with Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly who came on for Ellen White and Beth Mead.
Soon after Lauren Hemp got herself involved in the box and appeared to be taken down by a late tackle but the referee, and VAR were having none of it. It might have been my bias showing but honestly I thought Spain got away with one there.
Del Castillo continued to have Rachel Daly on strings with her movement down the Spanish right hand side and was very nearly rewarded with a cross/shot that had Mary Earps retreating to her goal line. The stopper did well in the end to tip it over the bar.
With 15 minutes to go England produced a flurry of shots inside the Spain box but all of them were blocked until Hemp shot high and wide. Up to that point in the game England weren’t good enough and their opponents were well worth their lead. Del Castillo’s influence on the game was hugely positive. Eventually Rachel Daly was withdrawn for Alex Greenwood, the manager choosing to send centre back Millie Bright up top and go to a back three.
Sarina Weigman is pretty good at this management lark. England finally equalised through Ella Toone. Hemp did well down the right, worked it around the Spain defence and lifted the ball towards Alessia Russo who nodded the ball down for the on-rushing Ella Toone to convert. Bright’s presence up top clearly gave the Spanish defenders something to think about and the goal ruffled their feathers as the coaching staff remonstrated that Paredes was fouled by Russo. She wasn’t, they were just being soft, 1-1.
You could sense the urgency from both sides as the game entered injury time with every decision contested. The Spanish sub goalkeeper even managed to get herself booked for her role in the post-goal complaints. However, it was England who were on the front foot as we approached the final whistle but the two centre backs for Spain (with the exception of the goal) had done a great job all night. The whistle went to take us to extra time which is something England should have been grateful for as until the last 10-15 minutes they were second best.
The start of extra time was interrupted too regularly by the referee’s whistle with England being penalised every time a strong breeze blew past a Spanish player.
And then SHIT! DID YOU SEE THAT?!. Georgia Stanway scored an absolute screamer! She waltzed through the centre of the pitch, Spain backed off until she eventually just smacked it. Here watch, it was mint.
Spain came back at England as you might have expected and the pressure was relentless but the defenders acquitted themselves well as they saw the rest of the first half of extra time out.
In the second half it was more pressure from Spain. Millie Bright, who has had a really impressive tournament, was strong again in the air and made a number of blocks to keep Spain out.
With five minutes to go Keira Walsh was withdrawn with what looked like cramp (lets hope that’s all it was) and replaced by none other than Jill Scott for her 159th appearance for England. The fans in the stadium loved the Mackem’s introduction and cheered her every touch. Lovely.
England were doing everything they could to run down the clock. Great work from the likes of Russo and Hemp to win fouls to relieve pressure and Greenwood even picked England’s first yellow card of the tournament for time wasting.
There was four minutes added time, Spain sent their keeper up for a corner as they threw the kitchen sink at England but the defenders performed superbly. The crowd in Brighton was right behind them, they cheered every clearance and every catch by the keeper until eventually they were rewarded.
It was a superb comeback to put themselves into the semi-finals of Euro 2022. Spain were distraught as they were on top for such large periods of the game but the win was England’s and now we can really believe.