England hold Spain in Group A curtain-raiser

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 48 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.