Spain pip France on penalties to reach final
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Spain 1-1 France (4-3 on pens)
Lucía García's decisive spot kick sent Spain to the final after Natalia Montilla equalised Sarah Galera's opener with a minute left to play.
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Spain beat France in a semi-final shoot-out after a compelling 1-1 draw at Valsvöllur to edge into their fifth UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship final.
France had one foot in Saturday's showpiece match following Sarah Galera's 63rd-minute opener, but parity was restored a minute from time with Natalia Montilla's brilliant lob. Penalties ensued and still-undefeated Spain squeezed through 4-3 to face Switzerland courtesy of Lucía García's conversion. While the Iberians earned a tilt at a third title, for three-time runners-up France the wait for a first WU17 crown goes on.
If Group A winners Spain had looked the sharper during the warm-up – much needed in rainy Reykjavik – France had the early edge. Marie-Antoinette Katoto, back after missing the Group B leadership-costing loss to Switzerland, twice created openings for team-mates with her power and pace; from the second, Inès Boutaleb, on the corner of the box, curled a shot against the base of the post.
France's physical advantage was a factor, and Katoto later brushed off Laia Aleixandri to deliver a cross that Boutaleb nearly converted. When Boutaleb repaid the compliment, Amaia Peña saved at Katoto's feet before Berta Pujadas blocked the French No9 on the rebound. There was encouragement for Spain coach Pedro López when Carmen Menayo's free-kick almost drifted in, while goalkeeper Jade Lebastard diverted the danger with four-goal García lurking and Julie Piga poked out a leg to curtail Menayo's run. French skipper Piga again came to the rescue with a goal-line clearance from Menayo following Montilla's right-wing surge.
Though Sandrine Soubeyrand's ensemble were resisting Spain better than any other side so far in this tournament, their 4-3-3 system morphing to 4-5-1 whenever required, Spain still threatened to wrest the half-time advantage but García scuffed her effort. Both Spanish wide attackers were in early second-half action, with Montilla forcing Lebastard into a redemptive stop after the keeper's spill and Menayo arcing an attempt wide. Boutaleb also volleyed over, yet the drift was increasingly towards the France goal and García again was repelled by Lebastard following Ona Batlle's cutback.
Even so, shortly past the hour France were in front. After Peña's fingertip save from Hélène Fercocq's strike, defender Galera drove the Bleuettes ahead, with the keeper having been unable to hold the resulting corner. Boutaleb then broke clear only to be denied a clinching second by Ona Batlle, but late chances came Spain's way with García close to finishing Montilla's centre before the No15 chose to do the job herself – chipping Lebastard from 20 metres for a superb 79th-minute equaliser.
Cue spot kicks, and Boutaleb was rebuffed by the diving Peña, Galera hit the bar before Patricia Guijarro found the upright, meaning a pressure penalty for García – who converted to seal victory at 4-3 amid fever-pitch excitement for the 807 crowd.
Pedro López, Spain
The game in itself was great. The 80 minutes threw up good play, nice technical details, goalscoring chances, saves – so there was a lot more than just the penalties. France are, if not the best, then the second-best women's football country in Europe, with a great set-up, and they showed it on the pitch. We play with both quality and character, and that was also evident. These girls never give up and if somebody's going to beat them they are going to have to fight for it. It was a great goal that we scored, a special moment that lifted us in time for the shoot-out while it knocked their morale. But all game there were opportunities, nice football and things to enjoy and love about our sport.
Sandrine Soubeyrand, France
We're disappointed, really disappointed, but not with the performance because we played well. We had the match in our hands but with a little mistake we let it slip away. We had chances, we could have made it 2-0 just before they equalised. It was our best display of the tournament – the girls showed they have real quality. They put the game plan into practice, they raised their level and I'm very proud of them. I'm disappointed for them more than anything. I think they deserved to go to the final, but that's football, that's sport – if you don't kill off your opponent, you risk letting them back into it and losing.