England’s Cross is all smiles after landmark strike

When a corner came in from the England right, a posse of players – Megan Finnigan, Ashleigh Plumptre and Rianna Dean – contested Chloe Kelly’s delivery with Spain’s Patricia Guijarro, Carmen Menayo and Laia Aleixandri. Georgia Allen also pulled off the near post to join the melee but it was Aleixandri who got her head to the ball. Two bounces later, however, England midfielder Zoe Cross, who had dropped back from the near post to a position right of the penalty spot, adjusted her feet to loop a slightly deflected shot over Spanish goalkeeper Amaia Peña and just under the crossbar.

“It was unbelievable,” Cross told UEFA.com when reflecting on scoring the first goal at this UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship. “It was a great moment for me but more importantly it helped us gain a valuable point.” If the 51st-minute strike in Grindavik gave England only a short-lived lead against Spain in Monday’s Group A opener, its worth should prove rather more enduring for both player and team. “This was my first goal for England – it’s been a long time coming and I’m really pleased to put one away,” the 17-year-old from Chelsea FC said. “I’ve scored a few this season for my club but not many in my career.

“It was a great game to play in,” she added. “I was more pleased with the team performance than with my own, because we worked well for each other and it was a really valuable experience. Spain play a really different brand of football and to get the opportunity to play against one of the top sides in Europe is a really good experience. Overall it is a great platform, it’s given us more confidence. It’s definitely hard to keep it at 1-0 against a team like Spain, so we’re disappointed to concede but happy with the point. It’s always important not to lose your first game.”

The goal betrayed the attacking instincts which the Crawley teenager – who has her grandparents for support here in Iceland – wishes to hone. “I’m a box-to-box midfielder – I play quite defensively for my club but I like to get forward. I’d like to add a few goals to my game. I was meant to come out to the edge of the box from Chloe’s corner – but I was hoping for a drop-down so carried on my run. It was with my left foot and I’m right-footed so I was quite surprised to see it go in.”

Even if Lucía García quickly equalised for a 1-1 draw, there was no disguising England’s much-improved second-half showing – nor the fact it augurs well for matchday two against Iceland in Akranes on Thursday. “We had more belief second half, we got used to it and believed we could get something. I was a bit nervous to start with – we were all a bit nervous but we grew into it. Now we’re confident about trying to win against Iceland but we don’t want to get complacent. We’ll work hard again and hopefully get the result.”

Whatever the outcome of England’s efforts, this season’s WU17 campaign has served as an education for the No16, veteran of three qualifiers for John Griffiths’ side. “I’ve had a good season, I’ve really enjoyed it and hopefully I’ll be able to build on it next year. I’ve definitely added to my game and had loads of experiences to help me improve.”