The Lionesses were 1-0 up in Breda on Sunday but under heavy Spanish pressure when Ellen White, lost her footing in trying to clear a cross. The ball ricocheted up from her leg to her arm.
The Italian official immediately awarded Spain with a penalty which have pulled them level in the closing stages and encouraged their pursuit of victory in the Group D tie.
England players, including Jade Moore and skipper Steph Houghton, protested the decision but it was Bronze’s note-taking in UEFA meetings that made the difference.
Bronze, in an interview with BBC: “I saw it right in front of me and I was like ‘that is not a penalty’ – it’s hit her leg and then gone up and hit her arm. It’s a deflection and [the referee] said ‘you’re right, it’s my mistake’.
Vitulano has been on the FIFA international list since 2005, and joined the elite rank of UEFA referees in 2011. In 2015, Vitulano was among the 22 referees who travelled to Canada for the Women’s World Cup. The Argentina-born referee has also controlled Women’s Champions League matches.
For all her experience, the England-Spain match was the second controversy in which the 41-year-old has found herself.
In France’s opening 1-0 win over Iceland the 41-year-old referee awarded Les Bleues a disputed late penalty for a foul on Amandine Henry but denied similar Iceland claims. Iceland coach Freyr Alexandersson made a point after the game of questioning Vitulano’s decision-making.
European federation UEFA, ahead of the tournament, had issued a vote of confidence in the “excellent calibre” of the selected officials.
Bronze described Vitulano’s volte-face “brave” but other opinions erupted on social media after the game.
Jess Fishlock, the Wales player and Seattle Reign captain, tweeted that tournament organisers should “give the girls the best refs around … regardless of sex. Just the best please – Male or Female.”
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide and which is currently running a Young Reporters project in the Netherlands with the cooperation and support of European federation UEFA. More information at www.AIPSmedia.com