England dream football's coming home again as Stanway rocket downs Spain in Euros quarters

Georgia Stanway’s extra time rocket propelled England into the Euro 2022 semi-finals just when it looked like Spain had brought them crashing down to earth with a bump. The tournament that was supposed to bring women’s football home to England was in danger of fizzling out to something of a damp squib with the hosts in real danger missing out on the latter stage.

Manager Sarina Wiegman had already made the biggest tactical move of her life, taking off player-of-the-tournament Beth Mead, Wayne Rooney-in-waiting Ellen White and England’s most creative playmaker, Fran Kirby.

And with the countdown clock showing just six minutes left, it worked!

One of the replacements Ella Toone coolly converted the knockdown from another Alessia Russo, to level the scores and turn the game.

Then in extra time, with the belief flooding back, Bayern Munich midfielder Stanway strode forward to hit a curling shot past the Spain goalkeeper from 20 yards to the delight of everybody at the Amex Stadium.

Everything had been going so perfectly up to tonight that even the one negative – Wiegman’s day-of-the-game Covid test – was a good thing.

The vital absence of that one red line was arguably what got England over theirs. She had had to watch the Northern Ireland game in isolation and was only able to communicate with the players via her wired-up staff.

However, while she was there in the flesh to deliver a half-time pick-me-up, it was her opposite number Jorge Vilda who appeared to have produced the crucial tactical masterstroke. Spain had been dominant, but it was the tactical introduction of Athenea del Castilla which gave them more of a cutting edge.

Aided and abetted by Rachel Daly charging out at her like a bull in a china shop, Del Castilla stepped aside with the grace of a skilled matador, picked out Esther Gonzalez and the Spain no. 9 squeezed her shot past Mary Earps and into the net.

Then moments later del Castilla’s deep, swinging cross shot could only be palmed up in the air and if it had not been hacked clear by Lucy Bronze, the game could have been over.

Spain were settled into their usual possession game unruffled by England’s attempts to press them high up the pitch. Luckily, Earps, who had largely been a spectator at the tournament so far, showed her worth in the first half.

Then when England bundled the ball into the back of the Spain net it was somewhat against the run of play. A deep free-kick was side-footed back across goal for White to bundle in but Bronze, very much in the midst of the action despite not touching the ball, was ruled offside.

It was clear that something drastic was going to have to change if England were to conjure a goal that counted after going behind.

Wiegman went nuclear. The triple change lit the fuse, the Amex came alive, and Spain for the remainder of the 90 minutes were blown away. Russo’s strength set up the goal for Toone although her physicality caused such widespread protest that substitute goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez was booked.

But the momentum had changed, as had the narrative. So when Stanway pulled back that right foot, there was only one place the ball was going to end up. Referee Stephanie Frappart gave Spain a jaw-dropping four extra anxious minutes after the second period of extra time to conjure another late twist.

But when the final whistle finally blew it was Wiegman punching the air in delight, happily swapping Covid for a cup fever that may just start spreading throughout the nation.

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