INTERVIEW: From agony to ecstasy for England Women’s U19s encroacher Ayane

The blunder that saw England Women’s Under-19s endure a five-day wait to retake a penalty against Norway attracted global media attention. The player at the heart of it all, Rosella Ayane, exclusively reveals what it felt like to be given a second shot at Euro glory.

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Rosella Ayane thought she would be hitting the headlines for her super sub performance in the European Championship qualifier against Norway – not for being at the centre of one of the most bizarre incidents in football history.

A week on, the England Women’s Under-19s rising star is able to reflect on the biggest moment of her fledgling career whilst safe in the knowledge that she didn’t cost her country a place at a major championship. But it didn’t always look as if it would turn out that way.

Perhaps over-eager to continue her huge impact off the bench, the 19-year-old darted into the box just before Leah Williamson made contact with a 96th-minute penalty. It was a mistake that led to a shocking refereeing error and almost denied England a place in July’s tournament in Israel.

Referee Marija Kurtes spotted the encroachment and cut short the jubilant celebrations, but then incorrectly awarded a free-kick to Norway rather than allowing England captain Williamson to retake the penalty.

It was a shocking misapplication of the rules by the ref. A decision that looked likely to deny England both a point from the match and a spot at the finals – as only one team was guaranteed to progress from a four-team group that also included Northern Ireland and Switzerland. For Ayane, it appeared to be a classic case of hero to villain.

She recalled: “I didn’t really understand what was going on at first. There were so many emotions from everyone at that moment. I thought the penalty was going to get us a draw, but when it was disallowed I was shocked.

“Personally, I was devastated. Being brought on in the 82nd minute, scoring a goal and winning a penalty is a dream, but for it to be disallowed unfairly . . . I was gutted.”

Often used as a full-back at international level, the tall, quick and skilful Chelsea youngster has looked more at home in a wide attacking position during her club career.

A goalscoring debut while on loan at Millwall just prior to the international qualifiers clearly hadn’t gone unnoticed. England Under-19 manager Mo Marley brought on Ayane as an auxiliary forward with just eight minutes left on the clock in the crunch match against Norway in the hope that she would produce something special.

With England trailing 2-0 and reduced to 10 following Ellie Stewart’s 74th-minute red card, the teen pulled one back with just two minutes of normal time remaining. There was less than a minute of stoppage time to play when Ayane used her pace to get in behind the defence and invited the penalty-winning foul by cleverly cutting back inside to shoot.

Acclaimed as a hero by her team-mates, super sub Ayane admits she was envisaging her picture “on the front page of the Guardian”, only for a rush of blood to the head and a refereeing howler to change everything.

The U19s faced a nervous wait to discover the outcome of their management’s appeal to Uefa. They were “happily surprised” when the governing body sent home Kurtes, appointed a new ref, and ruled the game would restart five days later with the 96th-minute penalty retake.

Pressure

It gave England a lifeline – as long as they could take advantage by beating Northern Ireland two days later, then see off Switzerland on the day of the retake. They duly won those matches 9-1 and 3-1.

It may have been a logical decision by Uefa, but it was one almost without precedent. The only other such incident on record came in a Men’s World Cup qualifying play-off between Bahrain and Uzbekistan in 2005, when the entire match was replayed.

The unusual nature of the 60-second replay caught the attention of the world’s media, with the story being picked up as far afield as Brazil’s Globo Esporte, while Sky decided to cover the penalty live on Sky Sports News – adding an extra level of pressure to the occasion for a group of players not used to such a fierce media spotlight.

Ayane, from Reading, said: “With the majority of our team being on social networking sites I think we all became aware pretty quickly that it was making the news, but that only spurred us to go on and do well.

“Obviously, Sky covering it did add pressure as you knew people from all over the world would be watching and we’re not really used to that kind of coverage.”

So, five days on from the original game, 22 players and a full set of officials headed out on to the pitch at Belfast’s Seaview Stadium to play little more than a minute of football.

As Williamson placed the ball down on the spot, Ayane was – understandably – taking no chances of becoming a repeat offender, but the 18-year-old skipper firmly struck the ball into the same corner as the successful first attempt to send England through.

Ayane admitted: “I was stood by the halfway line! I couldn’t hack actually watching the penalty; I had my head in my hands I was so nervous.

“When I saw the penalty go in I can’t even describe the emotions I felt . . . Relief, happiness, everything under the sun. I reacted like I had just won the lottery.”

Norway quietly congratulated themselves on progressing as best-placed runners-up, but the pressure of the past five days came flooding out amongst the England players as the celebrated on the pitch.

Ayane admitted: “We were all over the moon. I think with the whole build-up towards the penalty, now that we’d done it and we’d qualified, everyone was just so happy.

“It was nice for us all that the media were so supportive. It made it a moment for the girls and all the staff to never forget.”

Ayane’s encroaching may have become the most high-profile moment of her promising young career so far, but ultimately it was her goal and the penalty she won that put England through. It’s not the last we’ve heard of the talented teen.

Follow @tommbennett

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