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SPAIN 2 (Martin 16, Bermudez 67) ENGLAND 2 (Unitt 78, F.White 88)
An improbable late comeback has kept England's dreams of a World Cup play-off berth very much alive after they appeared to have been all but extinguished by a lively Spain side in Aranda de Duero.
Knowing anything other than a defeat would maintain England's all-important Group 5 head-to-head record against the Spanish, the Three Lions were outplayed in the first half and went in at the break 1-0 down after Adriana Martin smashed home the game's opening goal on 16 minutes.
Though England improved, worse was to come in the second half when Sonia Bermudez broke into the box and sent her left foot shot beyond Rachel Brown and into the top corner. That second goal catapulted Spain above England on (head-to-head) goals scored and a comeback did not appear likely.
However, England enjoyed a piece of good fortune when Rachel Unitt over-hit a left wing cross and saw it deceive Ainhoa Tirapu and loop into the far corner of the net. All of a sudden, England were back in the qualifying mix and skipper Faye White made absolutely sure when she prodded home an 88th minute equaliser.
England now need only one more victory from their remaining two qualifiers, against Turkey and Austria, to book their place in the play-offs and leave them just two games away from a spot at next summer's World Cup Finals in Germany.
Hope Powell made three changes to the side that defeated Malta 6-0 last month, handing starts to Karen Carney, Unitt and Eniola Aluko in place of Jess Clarke, Claire Rafferty and Ellen White respectively and it was a combination of Carney and Unitt that almost brought about the game's opening goal, although Unitt could only head the winger's corner over the bar.
Spain had a decent spell of possession early on but were unable to fashion any sort of opening until a perfectly weighted through ball from Vazquez found Bermudez running through on goal, only for the ball to be shepherded out of play by Alex Scott. England failed to clear Vazquez's subsequent corner and Martin made them pay, rifling the ball home from just outside the box for her 12th goal in just seven qualifiers.
The hosts were the better side throughout the first half and particularly favoured attacking down England's right, though full back Alex Scott was more than equal to any Spanish advances. Unitt's header and a Kelly Smith free kick aside, Spain were clearly on top, much to the delight of a buoyant home crowd.
However, as the half went on England improved, enjoying more and more of the ball, albeit without creating many clear cut chances from open play; Rachel Yankey came closest with a clean strike from the left but the ball flew into the side netting and Fara Williams came closest of all when her 25-yard free kick flew beyond the frame of the goal.
Powell will have felt aggrieved to hear the half time whistle because her side had eventually grown into this qualifier, assisted by Smith's growing influence in proceedings. Indeed, after the break, with England seeking an equaliser, Smith moved up front on her own, with Eniola Aluko moving out wide right, Carney switching to the left and Jill Scott coming off the bench for Yankey.
After a slow start to the second period, Smith almost justified Powell's tactical switch when she burst into the Spain box, only for a combination of Tirapu and Sonia Vesga to deny England's No.10. Carney's subsequent corner was met in the air by Jill Scott but Vesga was again on-hand to maintain the hosts' lead with a goal-line clearance.
England had the momentum and pinned Spain in their own half for large spells, however, on 67 minutes Bermudez doubled the Spaniards' advantage and dealt England what appeared to be a hammer blow. Martin found the midfielder with a cute ball through the centre and Bermudez shrugged off the attentions of Alex Scott before firing the ball into the top corner from just inside the left side of the box.
With Spain two goals to the good, their head-to-head record against England was now superior to the tune of one goal and England knew they needed to find at least a consolation strike to resurrect their hopes of a play-off place. Amazingly, it came in the 78th minute through Unitt's over-hit cross which looped high over Tirapu and into the back of the net. Although England were still losing the game, they were now ahead on the head-to-head record.
Powell's side regained the momentum and her second substitute, Ellen White, almost found an equaliser as the game entered its latter stages. But, where one White failed, another did not and England's captain latched on to Alex Scott's pass and dinked the ball over Tirapu to rescue a seemingly unlikely draw and leave England within touching distance of a play-off berth.
Spain: Ainhoa Tirapu, Marta Torrejon (sub Amaia Olabarrieta 45mins), Sonia Vesga, Miriam Dieguez de Ona, Ruth Garcia, Sonia Bermudez (sub Ma Victoria Losado 82mins), Veronica Boquete, Adriana Martin, Sandra Vilanova, Elisabeth Ibarra, Erika Vazquez. Subs not used: Maria Jose Pons, Alexandra Lopez, Ma Alharilla Casado, Mari Paz Vilas, Silvia Meseguer.
England: Rachel Brown, Alex Scott, Rachel Unitt, Katie Chapman, Faye White, Casey Stoney, Karen Carney, Fara Williams, Eniola Aluko (sub Ellen White 73mins), Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey (sub Jill Scott 45mins). Subs not used: Karen Bardsley, Jess Clarke, Dunia Susi, Laura Bassett, Sophie Bradley.
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