England’s Under-19 women’s team qualified for the European Championships in bizarre circumstances after scoring a penalty in the replayed final seconds of a qualifier against Norway.
In an unprecedented move, UEFA ordered for the last minute of injury time to be replayed, starting with a retaken spot-kick, five days after the original game ended in controversy when a refereeing blunder denied England the right to take the penalty again.
Leah Williamson remained cool under immense pressure to slot home from 12 yards in Thursday night’s brief encounter in Belfast, levelling the match at 2-2.
England held on in the final moments to secure the draw and, with it, a place in this summer’s finals in Israel on goal difference.
With Norway winning Saturday’s match in Belfast 2-1, England were handed a lifeline in the sixth minute of stoppage time when they won a penalty.
Williamson scored the spot-kick, but German referee Marija Kurtes disallowed the goal because one England player entered the box before she struck the ball.
Rules state the referee should have ordered the penalty to be retaken - but she instead awarded a free-kick to the Norwegians.
Norway played out the final minute of stoppage time and won the match 2-1.
UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body ordered the final moments of the match to be replayed from the point of the penalty-kick and said Kurtes had been sent home from the qualifying event, being held in Northern Ireland.
The game restarted with the retaken penalty at the Seaview Stadium in north Belfast, which Williamson converted with a low shot.
Both Norway and England played their final group matches earlier today.
England beat Switzerland 3-1, with Williamson scoring a penalty, and Norway defeated Northern Ireland 8-1.
The results left the sides level on six points in qualifying group four but with England holding the edge on goal difference ahead of the replayed final minutes tonight.
The action lasted 65 seconds on Thursday from the point the whistle was blown to take the penalty to full-time.
The final whistle was greeted with wild celebrations by both teams, as Norway also qualified for the championships as top runner-up.
Afterwards, jubilant goalscorer Williamson said she had not slept since she heard on Wednesday the penalty would be retaken.
“I have experienced every single emotion over the past 24 hours,” she said.
“But it wasn’t about me, it was about the team. I know everyone says that, but it really was, and I have never felt calmer than when she blew that whistle.”
She added: “We had a job to do, we did the job and we took our opportunity that I would never have dreamed to be gifted.”
Williamson’s mother Amanda had changed her flights to stay to watch her daughter score the crucial goal. They embraced in tears at the final whistle.
England coach Mo Marley paid tribute to her players.
“I can only applaud them the way they have conducted themselves, some of them are only 17 -18 years of age, the way they have handled it has been magnificent and it is a credit to how they are as a team and, as a staff, we are just really proud of them,” she said.
Marley said Williamson showed great maturity.
“If you speak to her you’ll understand how mature she is, how level headed she is, how sensible she is and, more importantly, how much of a winner she is,” she added.