England 2-0 Spain: Something special is building

Daniel Storey

Jodie Taylor scored her fourth goal in two games at the Women’s European Championship as England closed in on the quarter-finals with a 2-0 victory over Spain.

Arsenal striker Taylor fired in a hat-trick in Wednesday’s 6-0 thrashing of Scotland in England’s Group D opener, and sealed a hard-fought win for the Lionesses with another in rain-soaked Breda after Fran Kirby had given Mark Sampson’s side an early lead.

England were made to work harder than anticipated against technically gifted opponents and ran themselves to a standstill after Kirby had ensured a dream start.

They were also fortunate to benefit from some strange refereeing by Italian referee Carina Vitulano in the 75th minute when she changed her mind after appearing to award Spain a penalty for handball.

England, third favourites for the tournament and unchanged from the side which battered the Scots, were given a let-off in the opening exchanges.

Skipper and central defender Steph Houghton’s penalty-area slip let in Vicky Losada, but the Spain midfielder failed to hit the target and England made them pay by taking the lead in the second minute.

Birmingham forward Ellen White’s slide-rule pass dissected Spain’s defence and Kirby kept her composure as she raced clear into the penalty area to side-foot the ball inside the near post.

England, who secured a third-place finish at the World Cup in Canada two years ago, looked full of confidence and struck again in the seventh minute, but Ellie Bright’s header from Jordan Nobbs’ free-kick was harshly deemed offside.

Houghton blazed over following more good work by Kirby soon after, while both sets of players were struggling to keep their feet during a persistent first-half downpour.

Spain, who beat England 3-2 at Euro 2013 as former manager Hope Powell’s side crashed out at the group stage, enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball and were patient with it, but failed to test England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley before the interval.

Bardsley was quick off her line to snaffle Sampedro Bustos’ neat through-ball as the pattern continued early in the second period.

England’s fitness levels were truly tested as they chased and harried tirelessly, but Spain, who beat Portugal 2-0 in their opening match, continued their mastery of possession.

Putellas Segura just failed to latch on to Paredes Hernandez’s curling ball into the box. Spain probed and teased, but could not break down England’s well-disciplined defence.

England were given another big let-off in the 75th minute when referee Vitulano appeared to point to the penalty spot only to change her mind after White had slipped and inadvertently handled the ball.

Instead of handing the ball to Spain for the spot-kick, Vituano gave it to England goalkeeper Bardsley – to the fury of the Spanish bench.

England took full advantage to finish strongly and, when the ball broke for Taylor in the area with five minutes to go, the striker clinically clipped the ball home to ensure victory.