England U21 1-0 Spain U21: Young Lions make history to WIN Under 21 European Championship
Xavi looks good, doesn’t he? Andres Iniesta seems like a player. And this innovative bald coach, who knows a thing or two about midfielders, is certainly ready for a good career.
Spain wore white last night, or at least the epitome of a Spanish team. This is England. A new, glorious England. An Iberian England, though one who doesn’t mind a job done.
An England with a young goalkeeper saving penalties in the 98th minute of the final, and then the rebound for good measure. What drama, what elation when this finally ended with fights and fights and red cards and irritability.
Not that Lee Carsley cares. Under-21 champions of Europe, now a clean run of trophies for the FA’s age groups over the last six years. That has to translate into senior silverware at some point, perhaps with quite a few of these guys seen in Georgia working their way past perennial winners whose style they’ve copied and adapted over time.
There will certainly be some excitement for Gareth Southgate watching from the stands. He may be thinking back to the German team that beat Stuart Pearce’s Young Lions in the 2009 European Championship final, knowing that six of them went on to become World Cup winners five years later.
Carsley has spoken of the prospect that this group will be the next batch of internationals to finally take the country to the promised land. Not right away, and not because they have extra potential compared to their predecessors, but because they know a smart way of playing with which you can actually win things.
This wasn’t quite their way yet, when it mattered, England did enough. Enough quality, enough guts. They held on and kept a remarkable sixth clean sheet. No opponent has broken through England’s back line in all of their time.
There had been no forensic investigations like this throughout the competition, not even by favorites Portugal in the quarter-finals. Spain’s strategic placement of pressers to minimize England’s ability to build up turned this into a high-stakes game, a night on the edge. Levi Colwill’s amazing last ditch tackle as stoppage time approached epitomized the sweat that added to history.
It reminded me of Southgate unveiling plans to revolutionize the base game when he was the FA’s head of elite development in 2011, and some of those ideas were a product of Pep Guardiola.
“People have seen how players like Barcelona have played this year and they ask, ‘Why can’t our kids play like that?'” Southgate said. “We want them to play like that. We feel that what we are proposing will provide them with the environment to develop those skills.”
More small games naturally improved the technical ability of teenagers, but the Spanish way has always been to win back possession as high up the field as possible. England have learned that over time, but their opponents here haven’t exactly deviated either.
One slip when knocking over from behind could have easily determined this final. Warning signals came as Alex Baena curled wide when a cheap ball was given in England’s third, while Aitor Paredes headed wide from a Sergio Gomez corner.
There was that sense of real danger, but it’s what Carsley wants and England, to their credit, created the best chances in the first half. Anthony Gordon jabbed into the palms of Arnau Tenas, the rebound just avoided Cole Palmer. Morgan Gibbs-White was just inches away from converting a Gordon center.
Colwill – who threw himself in front of Rodri as Spain looked dangerous around the box – nodded into the ground and onto the post from Palmer’s free-kick before this all started.
Palmer thought he had scored a deflected free-kick from 25 yards seconds from half time when in fact he flew off Curtis Jones and wrong-footed the goalkeeper. England led. They were celebrating, maybe a little too much for the other couch staring at them. To be fair, the game had been niggly anyway.
Spain were furious, their coaching staff flew onto the pitch – players then got involved in what constituted a mass brawl. It went on and on and Spanish fitness coach Carlos Rivera singled out Ashley Cole; the pair’s confrontation earned them both a straight red. Jones had tried to calm Cole and the substitutes’ tensions by begging them to concentrate.
That continued into the tunnel, a lively rumble as they went to the changing rooms. Spain would be ready, Abel Ruiz fired a header through Trafford from a Gomez free-kick, but the Braga striker had advanced too early, confirmed by VAR. Ruiz somehow headed wide after a fiendish cross from Gomez, while the creator – Manchester City’s third-choice left-back – was underway.
The Santi Denia side was stealthy, territorially superior. Yet Trafford still hadn’t had a save until Ruiz’s drive on 69 minutes, Colwill a behemoth with partner Taylor Harwood-Bellis fielding a back four under increasing pressure.
Jones gained possession at the halfway point, sauntered towards goal and drew a decent stop from Tenas, just to let them know England were threatening. Tenas celebrated as if he had scored while fending off Noni Madueke and Spain thought they had forced extra time when Colwill conceded a late penalty. Ruiz stepped down, Trafford guessed right, saved the successor and a youngster who was at Bolton last season is the national hero.