England frustrated

England 1 Spain 1 Spain win 3-2 on aggregate

Football may have come home last summer but it will not be making a return visit in 1997. If England could have reached the finals of the Women's European Championship then the Football Association would have made a strong effort to play host to them. Unfortunately, that "if" yesterday proved too big.

Needing only a 1-0 win to ensure a place in the final eight, England had loads of possession but not enough goals and instead Spain will try to become Europe's top nation next June.

"If we had staged the finals," the FA's Mark Sudbury said, "it would have been a great platform for the women's game." Instead of the platform England, who were semi-finalists last time, found only the trap-door in the shape of Yolanda Meteos' 41st- minute goal. Maria Harper's equaliser 14 minutes from time set up a thrilling finale but ultimately proved irrelevant.

When the first leg was played three weeks ago the Spanish swung things in their favour by scheduling the match in the mid-day sun and 100-degree temperatures.

Yesterday England got their revenge, the conditions being as typically North-west as Blackpool rock. A fine, misty rain had been pouring for 12 hours and the ball's bounces were marked by splashes of water. It was a far cry from the heat and humidity of Mantilla, although the first 40 minutes followed the pattern of the closing stages of the previous match. Then goalkeeper Roser Serra had withstood an England onslaught and yesterday the match was played almost exclusively in the Spanish area.

After five minutes Roser had to dive to her right to stop Hope Powell's header, after 11 Powell was just wide with a shot. The traffic, usually instigated by left-winger Kelly Smith, went one-way but it also led into a dead end.

During this opening fusillade Spain had managed just one shot, which underlined the sense of surprise when the visitors took the lead. A seemingly innocuous attack suddenly turned dangerous when Maria Mar Prieto curled a path between Debbie Bampton and Maureen Marley. Yolanda's pace took her beyond the England rearguard and with a flick of the outside of her right foot she put the ball past Cope and into the far corner.

That goal meant England needed to score twice after the interval to take the match into extra time and they fell just short. Roser was again the dominant figure but it was her mistake after 76 minutes that led to the England goal. She came for Karen Burke's corner but could not gather the ball and Harper hooked the ball just under the bar.

That was a prelude to a furious final 10 minutes that climaxed when Vicky Exley's header was cleared off the line. It was to prove England's last hope .

Goals: Yolanda (14) 0-1; Harper (41) 1-1.

England (3-5-2): Cope; Marley, Bampton, Few; Proctor, Burke, Williams, Coultard, Smith (Mapes, 79); Davis (Harper, 75), Powell (Exley, 57). Substitutes not used: Easton, Brown (gk).

Spain (1-3-4-2): Roser; Is; Marina, Arantza, Judith; Rosa, Gondra (Silvia, 78), Maider, Marisa Punal (Mari Auxi, 89); Mar Prieto, Yolanda. Substitutes not used: Ana, Alicia, Laura.

Referee: B Folsing (Denmark). Bookings : Judith, Is, Rosa, Mar Prieto.

Woman of the match: Serra. Attendance: 3,500.

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