No sooner had Euro 2017 come to a close, then the U19s’ edition of the competition got underway in Northern Ireland. There has been lots of activity around this year’s tournament, with lots of buzz on social media and beyond. We travelled over on Tuesday morning to catch Matchday 1.
Italy 1 v 2 England
England’s #YoungLionesses come into the tournament with high hopes of getting to the latter stages and qualifying for next year’s U20 World Cup.
They opened their campaign in Group B against Italy. Mo Marley named a strong starting 11 captained by ex-Millwall defender, Grace Fisk, while Birmingham’s Ellie Brazil led the line alongside Chloe Kelly and Rinsola Babajide.
England will have felt that they could have done better with their first half performance. Brazil looked their liveliest player, providing a constant threat to the Italian defence with her speed but they struggled to control the game. It was the Italians who perhaps looked the most dangerous, whipping in several crosses from the right-hand side that provided some consternation for the central defensive pairing. However, both sides reached the 45-minute mark without either keeper being really tested.
The second half was a different story as England upped the tempo and pushed to break the deadlock. Georgia Allen gave a warning of things to come when, after some intricate inter-play between the front three, she spun onto the loose ball but sent her shot curling wide.
The pressure paid off and the Young Lionesses took the lead in the 52nd minute. The ever-impressive Brazil found herself in space in the box and sent a fierce shot goalwards. The effort was initially saved but the rebound fell to Allen who, with plenty of time, turned the ball home.
England continued to dominate the game and doubled their lead with 14 minutes to play. It was the same pairing again as Brazil played a pinpoint pass into the path of Allen who sent it past the goalkeeper.
They could have had three or four but as the game drew to a close, changes were made and the flow of the game was lost. A lapse of concentration deep into injury time saw them concede a fine curling effort from Annamaria Serturini. It was too late, however, for the Italians to make a comeback and England claimed an opening day victory.
Northern Ireland 0 v 2 Spain
What a feeling it must have been for the Northern Ireland team to open their home tournament at Windsor Park. Over 4,000 spectators came down to the home of Northern Irish football to cheer on their side against a strong Spanish contingent.
As was expected, the Spanish dominated possession but the Northern Irish defence proved resilient in the early stages. They made two clearance off the line in the first ten minutes before settling into the game. The Spanish were not having it all their own way either with the counter-attacking play of Leyla McFarland in particular catching the eye.
On the 30th minute, however, there was a breakthrough. Spain finally unlocked the defence with a smart lay-off in the box and Lucia Garcia was on hand to tap it in from close range.
You could have feared for Northern Ireland at that point – all too often in football, it can be that first goal that opens the floodgates when faced with a stronger opposition – but they stuck impressively to their task and went in at the break with the deficit still at 1-0.
Not long after half-time, Spain doubled their lead. It was up there with the strikes of the day! Patricia Guijarro picked up a poor clearance 20 yards from goal and volleyed in first time over Lauren Perry and into the back of the net.
Once again, Northern Ireland were not phased and continued to play their football. They had some promising counter-attacking moves and almost found their way back into the match. Composure was lacking however and the game finished with Spain taking the 2-0 victory but the home side taking away plenty of positives.
Scotland 0 v 3 Germany
An opening game against one of the tournament favourites, Germany, was always going to be a task ask for the Scottish side. Yet they proved resilient at the back with Becky Flaherty performing brilliantly between the sticks.
Germany took the lead after 20 minutes through Giulia Gwinn before doubling their lead just before the break when Annalena Rieke headed home from close range. Scotland kept the German attack at bay for most of the second half. However, with ten minutes to go, Germany got their third. Ereleta Memeti popped up with a header to seal the victory for her side.