A Tale of Two Halves
I had the distinct pleasure of getting to see Spain play England in the final She Believes Cup game and let me tell you; it was not the barn-burner I thought it would be.
BUT! It was a masterclass on the power of putting in the correct subs. Spain's starting roster was definitely the B squad. Sandra Paños in goal; Ainhoa Moraza, Leila Ouahabi, Mapi León and Andrea Pereira on the backline; Aitana Bonmatí, Mariona Caldentey, Ángela Sosa, Patri Guijarro and Amanda Sampedro in the midfielder, with Lucía García the lone forward in this 1-4-5-1.
They were matched up against England's 4-4-2 . Carly Telford in goal; Rachel Daly, Alex Greenwood, Millie Bright and Abbie McManus on the defense; Jill Scott, Leah Williamson, Toni Duggan, and Jordan Nobbs in the midfield with Nikita Parris and Ellen White as the strikers.
Coming into this game, England needed to really prove themselves. They hadn't looked anywhere near their best and had a narrow victory against Japan. Spain on the other hand looked the team to beat after defeating Japan 3-1 and holding the Americans to just one goal. Their starting roster looked a little lopsided compared to Phil's Neville's squad and it certainly showed in the first 45 minutes. Spain couldn't connect any passes, they could barely get out of their own half, and they were constantly mistiming their runs. England was running circles around them, tearing the Spain defense apart like tissue paper, peppering the goal with shot after shot. For the good England seemed to be doing, the only thing they couldn't get right was their scoring. Either the ball went over the crossbar or just off a post. The harder they tried to score, the more the ball would not go in. Spain looked disorganized and in disarray, like they had never played together before and it was clear going into halftime that they needed to turn this game around, IMMEDIATELY.
Spanish Head Coach Jorge Vilda appeared to know exactly what his team needed entering the second half; a bitch. In comes Alexia Putellas. With already one goal in the tournament, she and Jenni Hermoso were THE players to watch in this game. Marta Corredera and Marta Cardona de Miguel also entered the second half and it was a brand new Spanish team. England quickly found themselves on the back foot, having to deal with a suddenly aggressive and high pressuring Spain players. The English midfield was finding them quickly and effectively being beaten all over, and they were struggling to string together two passes. In the first half, England looked very strong at switching the field of play quickly and getting in behind the defense. This second half saw them struggling to get out of their own half.
England started showing huge weakness in the 59th minute when Moraza stole a ball meant for Duggan and CHARGED past two defenders, one who even lost her footing off a sloppy tackle and Carly Telford only just managed to save it with her face. England's defense was SHOOK after that play.
Things seemed to go from bad to worse when Spain's lead goal scorer and superstar #10 Jenni Hermoso entered the game. It was the loudest I had the heard the crowd get, from both USA and Spain fans. As soon she stepped onto the pitch, it was a matter of when, not if, they would score.
Alex Greenwood had a bad giveaway in the 69th minute and Telford was left in no man's land and could only watch as Virginia Torrecilla's shot went just over the crossbar. England was now playing desperate instead of smart and Spain could smell blood in the water. In the 81st minute, Marta Cardona de Miguel danced around two English defenders, bodies everywhere in the box trying to clear the ball and she launched it just off the near post and Telford once again rescued England. It appeared that poor Telford would have to do this entire game and it would end scoreless.
But then. In the 84th minute, Spain won a corner kick. Hermoso stood at the flag, surveying her teammates, making sure everyone is in position. England had a lot of bodies in the box, knowing time was running out. Hermoso raised her hand, giving the signal and took a step back before sending in the most perfect ball, right to the head of Alexia Putellas who wasted no time heading the ball in past Telford, who could only watch as the ball went in past her and Spain led! As it stood, they had their second win of the tournament and Putellas with her second goal!
England tried to rally back but you could see the wind had been taken out of their sails and they ended up losing the game, finishing third in the She Believes Cup. It was quite interesting to watch England's total collapse and demise. They seemed like a great team in the first half, connecting passing, getting in behind the defense, doing everything right but scoring. But Vilda's second half subs proved to be the game changers and Spain came out on top. They would finish second in the tournament and Putellas would win MVP, as she so rightly deserved to. Spain have been one of THE teams to watch since their World Cup showing. For intents and purposes, they had a great tournament. They were the only team to give the USA fits and just like in the World Cup, the Americans would win only by the skin of their teeth. If Spain continue on this path, they may one day hold the prestigious title of being one of the few teams to beat the USA.