England 1-1 SpainEngland held the two-time champions in Grindavik as Spain were forced to come from behind for a point in the Group A opener.
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• All-square in Group A opener, repeat of 2013/14 semi-final
• England start slowly but Zoe Cross makes second-half breakthrough
• Lucía García levels on 54 minutes, with no further goals forthcoming
• Germany v Spain and Iceland v England on Thursday
England and Spain played out a 1-1 draw in southern Iceland to raise the curtain on Group A of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
Zoe Cross made sure there would be no repeat of last season's 3-0 semi-final defeat by the Iberian side, firing England ahead on 51 minutes. Yet Spain – their defence breached for the first time this term – underlined their quality, and powers of recovery, with a fine equaliser from Lucía García.
The initial threat in Grindavik came from the two-time champions, with Mayumi Pacheco taking evasive action as Spain's little winger Natalia Montilla threatened to pounce. Another of Spain's sylph-like starlets, captain and No10 Maite Oroz, flitted menacingly between the lines as Pedro López's team settled to the task. The first opportunity duly fell to the Spaniards. García released Carmen Menayo whose first-time attempt was blocked by Alexandra Maciver. The same pair combined again, this time García's effort being deflected over.
England, who had equalled their best placing of fourth in this competition as hosts in 2013/14, were losing a few too many individual duels and Maciver came to the rescue once more from Aitana Bonmati. With qualifying top scorer Georgia Stanway on U16 duty, John Griffiths's team had begun brightly only to retreat into their shells. Spanish mobility was eclipsing English physicality, though Georgia Allen led a raid into the opposition area early in the second period.
That insurgence prompted another as Pacheco slipped in skipper Chloe Kelly to cut the ball back for Allen whose shot was touched over by Amaia Peña. The ensuing corner, from Kelly, almost went straight into the goal; the next resulted in Cross scooping England in front via a deflection. Spain's beautifully crafted reply came within three minutes, however. Oroz played in Patricia Guijarro and her cross from the byline elicited the close-range finish it deserved from García.
Chloe Peplow might have restored the English advantage, before Maciver tipped over García's powerful late header at the other end. A point, then, was the maximum yield for both countries, though there were plenty of positives for either side ahead of Thursday's second matchday.
John Griffiths, England
We had a game plan and the girls stuck to it and worked incredibly hard, though Spain made it really tough for us. They had more of the ball – we knew they would – but we tried whenever we regained the ball to keep possession in tight situations. We haven't had long to prepare for the group with these girls so they've done incredibly well. They were very, very nervous – some of our players would have been in the Under-16s if they'd been born three weeks later. But particularly in the second half they settled into the game well, got used to the conditions, and in tournament football it's particularly important not to lose your first game. They were very disciplined in what they executed so I'm very pleased. We haven't made many finals, so the more tournaments they get, the more experience they'll get and the less nervous too. The first game's out of the way, they've done well and now they need to settle and be themselves.
Pedro López, Spain
Overall, I'd say I'm satisfied because we controlled large parts of the game against a team who competed really well, were physically superior to us and always carried a threat whenever they got the ball off us. It's a good starting point because normally you'd expect to improve with every game in a tournament like this. We were excellent in attack and worked hard defensively too, and you've got to take into account the quality of opponent we were up against. They're a good side and they had chances, but we dominated in spells so I've got to be happy with the girls. The goal we scored is an example of the way we like to play, but England were very disciplined and kept it tight in the middle, denying us space with the two centre-backs and the No4 mopping up.