England are through to the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship semi-finals after two goals in the last three minutes saw them turn a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 victory against Italy.
Mo Marley's team looked set for a Group A loss as Italy led through Francesca Vitale's sixth-minute header but the indefatigable Toni Duggan almost single-handedly dragged them back in it. With time ebbing away she kept her cool to drive in the equaliser and, in the first minute of added time, her back-heel released Isobel Christiansen whose shot was palmed to substitute Lauren Bruton at the back post. Only on for 21 seconds, Bruton's first touch of the game ended Italy's last-four ambitions.
The Azzurrine did not have the best introduction to these finals, a tournament-ending injury to Roberta Filippozzi salting the wounds of a 4-1 opening-day defeat by Germany, but they could not have wished for a better start on their return to Kumanovo. It began innocuously enough, a Vitale free-kick from distance which somehow evaded all but the vigilant Rebecca Spencer, who turned it around the post.
The resulting corner was taken short, Martina Rosucci delivering it to be headed home by Vitale, Filippozzi's replacement at centre-back. Suddenly Italy, so fractious on Monday, were a different proposition. They stroked the ball around with confidence and composure, Sabrina Marchese, Barbara Bonansea and Rosucci causing constant problems down the left.
England could not find their groove, the cute passing that has become their hallmark over the past 18 months looked ugly, the ball refusing to obey. Duggan was best able to bring it to heel, creating space with her twists and turns before Italy, defending in numbers, abruptly closed it. Only once did they fail in the first half, as Duggan's cross-shot drifted wide with Jordan Nobbs just unable to make up the ground.
The holders emerged from the interval a renewed force, the full-backs given licence to roam though England could have done without Gilly Flaherty inadvertently getting into the path of Laura Coombs' goal-bound effort. The chance brought hope, and Nobbs fired just over after the hour as England really started knocking on the door. Soon they were hammering on it, Katia Schroffenegger denying Jessica Holbrook and Duggan before the holders finally broke through – and how.
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