Then, in the sixth minute of the first extra period, the Spanish defense conceded an inch of space to Georgia Stanway and took the Lionesses to the semi-finals with a sensational blow to seal a 2-1 win.
“It’s a transition from a group mentality to a knockout. We have proven that we are resilient and can overcome challenges,” England captain Lea Williamson told the BBC.
“Sorry to mom and dad that you have work tomorrow and I delayed you getting home. I feel sorry for the whole nation, but I hope you buzz like me.”
England’s European campaign was flawless, topping their group without conceding a single goal to a record win over Norway.
But the Spaniards’ trademark tiki-taka pass ensured they dominated the first half, depriving the Lionesses of possession and any chance to unleash their free attack.
At 17 minutes La Roja engineered her first shot on goal when Marion Kaldentey fired a shot from outside the box, which was deflected by England goalkeeper Mary Earps.
Twenty minutes later, it looked like Ellen White had scored for England on the fly with Lauren Hemp’s free-kick, but her attempt was ruled offside.
This provoked a late flurry of English attacks, but the Spanish defense held out and the first half ended goalless.
Spain started the second half brightly and took the lead when substitute Athinea del Castillo interfered with Rachel Daly, zigzag into the box and set up Esther Gonzalez, who scored a goal into the corner.
In response, England’s tactics changed and head coach Sarina Wigman brought in Alessia Russo and Tuna to stop Spain’s advance.
Earps’ outstretched fingertips deflected a powerful Del Castillo shot to keep the Liones hopes alive before Russo and Thun teamed up in the 86th minute to equalize and send the match into extra time.
“We used plan B,” Wigman told the BBC. “After that, we scored quickly to get back to our normal form. I’m so proud of the team. The fans are behind us, you felt it. That’s the advantage of the house.”
After Stanway’s early goal in extra time, Spain continued to threaten, but England held on for a memorable victory.
“It’s a disappointing defeat and a disappointing exit from the competition, but if there’s a good way to lose, it’s to play the way we played tonight. We gave everything, but it wasn’t meant to be. We have done very well and have a bright future ahead of us, but this is a difficult day for us,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda said, according to UEFA.com.
Now for a place in the final, the lionesses will play either with Belgium or with Sweden.