Spain boss Jorge Vilda believes facing England will be “the toughest game in the Euros” after their late victory over Denmark set up a quarter-final against the Lionesses in the European Women’s Championship.
Marta Cardona headed in the 90th-minute winner to confirm Spain’s last-eight spot – though they only needed a draw in Brentford.
Vilda’s side, one of the pre-tournament favourites, finished second in Group B with two wins from their opening three games.
They dominated possession against a stubborn Denmark side, who needed victory to go through.
Spain will now face England on Wednesday, 20 July in Brighton for a place in the semi-finals.
Vilda said: “I think it will be the toughest game in the Euros given the level England are playing at – and that they are the host nation, their fans are behind them – but that is something that motivates us.
“We like a challenge. Now we need to recover well, knowing we are up against a contender for this competition.”
Spain created plenty of chances but struggled to break down Denmark, who carried a huge threat on the counter-attack with Chelsea forward Pernille Harder impressive.
It was Harder who created the first big chance of the match, laying it off to team-mate Karen Holmgaard, who wanted an extra touch when a first-time shot was the better option.
Harder then raced onto a through-ball but could not chip it over Spain goalkeeper Sandro Panos, before linking up with Rikke Madsen, only to force a save at the near post from a tight angle.
Spain eventually settled into a rhythm and should have taken the lead through Athenea del Castillo but she could not nod it over the line in a scramble from close range.
Both managers made changes early in the second half as Denmark worked tirelessly to win the ball back and Spain craved the opening they needed to take the lead.
Eventually it came as Cardona rose highest at the back post to head in the late winner and end Denmark’s hopes.
It was an unconvincing display from Spain but, after losing Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas on the eve of the tournament, qualifying for the knockout stages will come with a sense of relief.
Spain through but not convincingly
Spain, ranked seventh in the world, were tipped to go far, given a large majority of the squad come from Barcelona who have reached back-to-back Champions League finals.
However, they had to battle to get out of the group stage.
They went behind within a minute of their opening game against Finland before bouncing back to win 4-1 – and were then beaten 2-0 by a Germany side who are threatening to go all the way.
Denmark put up a very good fight and knowing they had to win to leapfrog Spain in the group standings, they held out for as long as possible.
Harder was a constant menace and fired an attempt inches over the crossbar in the second half, before teeing up substitute Nadia Nadim, only for her shot to be tipped over by Panos.
Spain created plenty of chances of their own and will carry an attacking threat against England in the quarter-finals, but they look vulnerable out of possession.
Before the game, Manchester City and Spain midfielder Vicky Losada told BBC TV “we’ve not seen the Spanish side that we were expecting” and this narrow success did very little to change that view.
‘We fought for our lives’
Denmark boss Lars Sondergaard, said: “We knew this was the group of death, unfortunately we were the ones who died. But we fought for our lives.
“I told the players, ‘it is one of the best games you have played for a couple of years’, the future is bright.
“We improved a lot and developed a lot in the tournament. The players had teary eyes.”
- 19ThomsenSubstituted forNadimat 73′minutes
- 11VejeSubstituted forHolmgaardat 80′minutes
- 17MadsenSubstituted forLarsenat 74′minutesBooked at 89mins
- 15Møller KühlSubstituted forTroelsgaardat 58′minutes
- 21Gejl Jensen
- 16León Cebrián
- 15OuahabiBooked at 30minsSubstituted forCarmonaat 45′minutes
- 12Guijarro Gutiérrez
- 21GarcíaSubstituted forCardonaat 45′minutes
- 8Caldentey Oliver
- 10del CastilloSubstituted forAleixandriat 80′minutes
- 17GarcíaSubstituted forGonzálezat 45′minutes
- 1Gallardo Núñez
- 23Rodríguez Rivero
- Rebecca Welch
Match ends, Denmark Women 0, Spain 1.
Second Half ends, Denmark Women 0, Spain 1.
Offside, Spain. Sandra Paños tries a through ball, but Marta Cardona is caught offside.
Goal! Denmark Women 0, Spain 1. Marta Cardona (Spain) header from the centre of the box to the top left corner. Assisted by Olga Carmona with a cross.
Stine Larsen (Denmark Women) is shown the yellow card.
Attempt missed. Sanne Troelsgaard (Denmark Women) right footed shot from outside the box is too high.
Attempt missed. Marta Cardona (Spain) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right following a corner.
Attempt blocked. Aitana Bonmatí (Spain) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Corner, Spain. Conceded by Stine Pedersen.
Esther González (Spain) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Sofie Junge (Denmark Women).
Mapi León (Spain) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Nadia Nadim (Denmark Women).
Marta Cardona (Spain) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Sara Holmgaard (Denmark Women).
Substitution, Denmark Women. Sara Holmgaard replaces Katrine Veje.
Substitution, Spain. Laia Aleixandri replaces Athenea del Castillo.
Attempt missed. Karen Holmgaard (Denmark Women) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Sofie Junge with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Denmark Women. Conceded by Sandra Paños.
Attempt saved. Nadia Nadim (Denmark Women) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the top right corner. Assisted by Pernille Harder.