Maria Pilar Leon tackles Linda Sallstrom. (Natalie Mincher/SportsPressPhoto)
Despite an early scare Spain were able to break down a resilient Finland defence and claim the first three points in Group B, reports Louise Golby.
A record (for a Euros match not involving the hosts) 16,819 fans from both countries, as well as the neutrals, packed into Stadium MK for the first game in the so called ‘group of death’.
In previous fixtures between these sides it was Spain who were on top, with five wins and two draws. However, without star players Jenni Hermoso and Alexia Putellas, there were question marks how they would perform, particularly in front of goal.
In a match where the majority pegged Spain to be favourites it was Finland who burst out of the blocks and opened the scoring with just 48 seconds in the clock. It was the quickest goal in Euros history, at least since the group stage was introduced in 1997, as Finland’s all-time top scorer broke towards goal and slotted calmly into the left corner. The c.1,500 Finnish fans inside the stadium went wild, the substitutes were on the pitch and the underdogs were ahead. Scenes!
Spain did not panic nor did they hold back, their attacking style of football constantly testing the Finland defence. They were clinical from set pieces and it turned out to be vital. While their first goal was ruled out for offside, in the 26th minute centre back Irene Paredes rose high in the box and her powerful header beat Spurs keeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela for the equaliser.
Before the half the favourites were in front and it was another headed goal as a Mapi Leon cross found Aitana Bonmati unmarked and she was able to direct a looping effort perfectly past Korpela.
While it was a relatively uneventful second half the supported remained in fine voice. The Finnish fans could be heard in their numbers and the groups of school children around the ground were enjoying an entertaining game of football; chanting, clapping and joining in with the (dreaded?) ‘Mexican wave’.
Goalkeeper Korpela proved to be the star of the show for Finland as she pulled off some fantastic saves the deny the barrage of Spanish chances. However, they still found a way through. With 15 minutes to go Lucia Garcia put her side further into the lead with yet another header. With the end in sight she had all but ensured it would be three points for Spain. The team celebrated with their bench, which included the injured captain Putellas.
Then, at the death, Spain were awarded a penalty. Stepping up to the spot Mariona Caldentey made no mistake, her strike sailed into the top corner and was met by a roar from the crowd.
An entertaining fixture ended in a comfortable victory for Spain. Bring on the Germans.
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