Spain pip France on penalties to reach final

Spain overcame France in a 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 Natalie Montilla’s brilliant lob. Penalties ensued and Spain squeezed through, 4-3, to face either Switzerland or Germany courtesy of Lucía García’s conversion. While the Iberian outfit now have a tilt at a third title, their neighbours’ frustrating wait for a first WU17 crown goes on.

If Spain had looked the sharper during the warm-up – much needed in cool and 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 of these, Inès Boutaleb, from the corner of the box, curled a shot against the base of the post.

France’s physical advantage was certainly a factor, and Katoto later brushed off Laia Aleixandri to send in 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 Lucía García lurking and Julie Piga poked out a leg to curtail Menayo’s tricky run. French skipper Piga again came to the rescue with a goal-line clearance from Menayo following Natalia Montilla’s right-wing dart.

Though Sandrine Soubreyrand’s ensemble were resisting Spain better than any other side so far in this tournament, their 4-3-3 morphing to 4-5-1 whenever required, Spain still threatened to wrest the half-time advantage but García scuffed her effort from Montilla’s pass. 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 narrowly 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, on 63 minutes, France were in front. Following Peña’s fingertip save from Hélène Fercocq’s strike, defender Sarah Galera drove the junior Bleuettes ahead, with the keeper unable to hold the resulting corner. Boutaleb then broke clear only to be a clinching second by Batlle, but late chances nonetheless came Spain’s way with García agonisingly close to converting 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 only the upright, meaning a pressure penalty for García, who converted to seal it at 4-3 amid much excitement from the 807 crowd.