Gloria Comerma 4 (PC)
Carlota Petchame 31 (F)
Alex Danson 17 (F)
Crista Cullen 28 (PC)
Susie Gilbert 35 (F)
After going behind to an early penalty corner England forced their way back into the game through Alex Danson, who scored on her 100th appearance for England, before taking the lead from Crista Cullen’s penalty corner just before the half hour. Errors at the back cost England an equaliser just three minutes later and there was a touch of fortune about Susie Gilbert’s winner, which came in the dying seconds of the first half.
A goalless second period followed the first half goal fest and England held on to secure a crucial opening day victory although Head Coach Danny Kerry was less than satisfied with his team’s overall performance.
Before the match, Kerry presented forward Alex Danson with a bouquet of flowers to mark her 100th international appearance for England as he named the same 16 athletes that secured Champions Trophy bronze in Nottingham in July with a 2-1 win over Germany.
Spain had not been in Nottingham this summer and England’s previous encounter with the world number eight side came in June 2009 in two Nottingham tests, the first of which ended in a draw with England winning the second.
In World Cup matches, England held the edge over Spain, winning one and drawing two of their three previous meetings.
It was however a difficult start for England who fell behind in the fourth minute to Gloria Comerma’s straight strike from the game’s first penalty corner. The early foul in the English circle proved costly as Comerma rocketed a low shot directly into the bottom left corner to give Spain the lead.
England’s first sight of goal came in the tenth minute when Leicester’s Hannah Macleod picked up a loose ball inside the Spanish circle. Macleod was looking for the diving deflection of Alex Danson with her shot but the effort was intercepted in front of goalkeeper Maria Lopez.
A year ago, Spain were ahead of England in the world rankings but such has been the progress of England’s young team that they now sit two places higher than the Spanish in sixth.
A foul on centurion Danson resulted in England’s first penalty corner in the 14th minute but Cullen was quickly charged down by Spain captain Nuria Camón at the top of the circle.
England found the equaliser soon after and it was Danson who finished off a flowing move that involved four English players. Good persistence from Leicester’s Chloe Rogers saw her rob an opponent midway inside the Spanish half and after playing a one-two with Clifton youngster Charlotte Craddock she squared the ball to Kerry Williams in the middle of the circle. Williams’ shot was aimed for Danson who connected perfectly, deflecting the ball in front of Rocio Ybarra on the back post to level the score. The goal, Danson’s 23rd for England, meant that the 25 year old has now scored in three consecutive World Cups.
Four minutes later, Cullen had to show good athleticism to recover and block a shot from Montserrat Cruz after the Leicester defender had miss-trapped a pass in the middle of the pitch, allowing the Spanish forward through on goal.
The umpires produced a brace of green cards to Alex Danson and Silvia Bonastre as they looked to assert their authority in the 22nd and 27th minutes.
What followed Bonaste’s return to the action was a series of errors that led to three goals in just seven minutes. In the 28th minute, the Spanish defence failed to retreat five metres from an English free hit high up the pitch for which the umpire awarded England their second penalty corner. Clifton’s Georgie Twigg, pulling out from the baseline, found stopper Laura Unsworth to the left of the circle top and she set up Crista Cullen to flick low under the diving goalkeeper to put England ahead for the first time in the match.
No sooner had England taken the lead than Spain equalised for 2-2. Attacking the English circle from the right, Raquel Huertas’ cross deflected off the stick of Cullen, wrong footing England goalkeeper Beth Storry who had stepped out from the front post. As the ball ran agonisingly behind the Reading goalkeeper Carlota Petchame dived in to deflect it over the line.
England survived two Spanish penalty corners in the final few minutes of the half and there was still time for another twist as England scored in the dying seconds to go in 3-2 up at half time. Breaking through the middle, Craddock found Susie Gilbert inside the Spain circle and the 21 year old University of Birmingham athlete saw her shot deflected beyond Maria Lopez off the stick of Spanish defender as England re-took the lead.
The first real opportunity of the second half fell England’s way when Alex Danson picked up the ball off the foot of a Spanish defender but she lashed her shot just wide after the umpire played advantage. A minute later, England were handed a numerical advantage when Georgina Oliva was yellow carded for hitting the ball away.
The advantage came to nothing though and with Spain back to full strength they won their fourth penalty corner of the game in the 50th minute; a cross from the right striking the foot of Canterbury defender Natalie Seymour in the England circle. Spain’s set piece was not cleanly executed and Cullen blocked the eventual effort on goal.
At full strength and seeking an equaliser, Spain began to press. England faced yet another Spanish penalty corner with seven minutes remaining when Leicester’s Williams failed to back away five metres and Nuria Camón came close to equalising when the ball was returned to her in front of the back post. Under pressure she deflected over the bar and England’s breathed a sigh of relief.
England, now sixth in the world, were reduced to ten when Hannah Macleod was green carded and with Macleod off the pitch Spain were awarded another penalty corner. England captain Kate Walsh immediately asked the umpire, Elena Eskina, to refer it to the video umpire citing that the ball onto the Spanish forward from Crista Cullen was not dangerous. After a somewhat lengthy delay Soledad Iparraguerre, the Argentinian video umpire, ruled in England’s favour and the decision was overturned.
No sooner had Macleod returned to the pitch with four minutes remaining than she won a penalty corner off the body of Julia Menendez but the shot from Cullen hit the foot of Helen Richardson, who was running in for the deflection.
In the dying seconds of the match there was a moment of concern for England as Leicester defender Laura Unsworth went down after having her leg hooked away from her by the stick of Nuria Camón. Unsworth was clearly in pain as she left the field and the hooter went to signal the end of the match and opening day victory for England.
After the match, Head Coach Danny Kerry was clear in his assessment. “We were awful but we won,” he said. “We were outplayed for most of the game and Spain played very well. I was happy with the way we defended against their skilful players.”
England’s second of their five Pool B fixtures comes on Tuesday as they take on Olympic silver medal winners China, who lost 2-1 to Korea in the opening game of the tournament. That match gets underway at 18:30 BST.