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Spain edge France to book finals place

Spain edged out France by the slimmest of margins, sealing a last-day draw to top UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship second qualifying Group 3 on goal difference.

Spain's María Caldentey celebrates her vital penalty in the decisive game against France
Spain's María Caldentey celebrates her vital penalty in the decisive game against France ©Icon Sport

Spain held their nerve to come from behind and earn a draw against France, sealing progress to Nyon despite finishing level on points at the top of UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship second qualifying round Group 3.

Going into the final day, hosts France, runners-up for the second time last season before winning the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, needed to beat Spain to pip the twice champions to the final. That looked a distinct possibility when Salome Elisor hammered them ahead 18 minutes in. However, Amandine Blanc fouled Mireya García Boa in the area 14 minutes later, allowing María Caldentey to draw the scores level from the spot. That proved enough for Spain to edge the group and secure a semi-final against the winners of Group 4, which will be played next month in the Czech Republic.

Spain had gained their goal difference edge on the first day as they beat Finland 3-0 while France defeated Northern Ireland 3-1. With a brand of football worthy of their men's senior team, Jorge Vilda's Spain went deservedly ahead on 22 minutes when Nahikari García latched on to García Boa's through ball. Lively winger García Boa got a goal herself on a counter just before half-time and she set up Andrea Sánchez for the third after the break. Northern Ireland led France early through Aimee Mackin but in the last ten minutes, Sabrina Barbe, substitute Justine Rougemont and Valérie Gauvin turned the game on its head.

Two days later, the leading pair each won 2-0. Spain overcame Northern Ireland, Andrea's early free-kick headed in by Patricia Guijarro and García Boa combining with Nahikari García to make it two on 21 minutes. Mackin did threaten for Northern Ireland and in the second half they kept Spain at bay solidly. France's win against Finland was courtesy of early Rougemont and Gauvin goals.

Northern Ireland ended up taking third spot in the group, a 41st minute Moya Feehan strike earning a 1-0 win against Marko Saloranta's Finland outfit, and Spain ground out the draw to end level on seven points with France, but a single goal better off to secure their route to Switzerland.