Xavi looks good, doesn’t he? Andres Iniesta seems like a player. And surely this innovative bald coach, who knows a thing or two about midfielders, is set up for a proper career.
Spain wore white last night, or at least the embodiment of a Spain team did. This is England. A new, glorious England. An Iberian England, although one in touch with its roots. One that relishes roughing it to complete the job. They needed a bit of that.
An England who own a young goalkeeper, James Trafford, who saves penalties in the 98th minute of finals and just casually shrugs. Such drama, such elation when this finally finished, with rows and fights and red cards and petulance.
Under 21 champions of Europe, now a clean sweep of trophies for the FA’s age-group sides over the last six years. That must translate into senior silverware at some point, maybe with quite a few of these lads on show in Georgia, as they engineered a way past perennial winners whose style they have copied and adapted over time.
There will definitely be some real excitement for Gareth Southgate, watching on from the stands. He might think back to the Germany team that beat Stuart Pearce’s Young Lions in the 2009 final of the European Championship, knowing that six of those became World Cup winners five years later.
England have won the U21 European Championship after defeating Spain 1-0 in an enthralling game that had plenty of drama
The young lions hoisted the trophy ending a 39-year wait for a win at the European Championship, their last triumph coming in 1984 notably beating Spain that day too
There was elation at the full-time whistle as England weathered a late storm from Spain who had a last minute penalty saved by goalkeeper James Trafford
While Lee Carsley’s future with the U21s remains in doubt, with the Republic of Ireland notably being linked with the manager, he guided his side to a hard-fought victory in Georgia tonight
Trafford (right) was the hero of the match saving a last-minute penalty form Abel Ruiz (left) as well as a rebound shot, to ensure his side got the win
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Carsley has talked up the prospect of this group being the next batch of internationals who can finally take the country to the promised land. Not right away, and not even because they have extra potential than their predecessors, but because they know a smart way of playing that actually wins things.
‘I think it definitely puts them in the spotlight,’ Carsley said. ‘This group has shown they can win in a different way. We’re not a club team but if we worked for another month we would have had a lot more control.’
What a ride last night was. Ashley Cole and Morgan Gibbs-White were sent off from the bench. England had to accept that Spain’s second-half barrage could barely be contained until the very last line. Carsley’s attackers broke, should have scored more, and were left indebted to Trafford, the penalty hero who spent last season on loan at Bolton in League One. He is heading for the Premier League with Burnley and that is richly deserved.
For all the hard work England, in the moments that mattered, really did do enough. Enough quality, enough guts. They stood firm, keeping a remarkable sixth consecutive clean sheet. Not one opponent has breached England’s back line throughout.
The examination was forensic. Spain’s strategic placing of pressers to minimise England’s ability to build-up saw this become a game of high stakes, a night on the edge.
It brought to mind Southgate unveiling plans to revolutionise the grassroots game when the FA’s head of elite development back in 2011, with some of those ideas a product of Pep Guardiola.
‘People have seen the way that the likes of Barcelona have played this year and they’re asking: “Why can’t our kids play that way?”,’ Southgate said. ‘We want them to play that way. We feel that what we are proposing will give them the environment to develop those skills.’
More small-sided games naturally improved the technical ability of teenagers but the Spanish way was always to win possession back as high up the pitch as possible. England have learnt that over time. Their opponents here remain masters too.
It was Curtis Jones (bottom middle) who made the difference, deflecting Cole Palmer’s free-kick into the goal with his back
Palmer (middle back) was another stand-out during the game, threatening the Spanish defence throughout the game
Curtis Jones (right) and Anthony Gordon (left) posed with the trophy after the match, having both featured throughout the tournament
Max Aarons (right), pictured with Emile Smith-Rowe (left) after the win, was called back into the starting XI for the match
England’s senior side manager, Gareth Southgate, was spotted in the stands watching the Young Lions make history
There was drama at half-time, just after England’s opener, with tempers flaring between both groups of players and those on the touchline
Ashley Cole (second from left) was sent off during the match along with a coach from the Spanish national side after tempers flared before half-time
The group of young stars have been applauded throughout the tournament for their togetherness and team mentality and after the game, they showed support for their injured colleague Jacob Ramsey, who suffered a broken foot in their match against Portugal
One slip when knocking it about from the back could have easily defined this final. Warning signs came when Alex Baena curled wide once cheap ball was gifted in England’s third.
There lived that sense of real jeopardy but it is what Carsley wants and England, to their credit, created plenty. Anthony Gordon – UEFA’s player of the tournament – stung the palms of Arnau Tenas. Gibbs-White was inches from converting Gordon’s centre.
Colwill – who threw himself in front of Rodri as Spain looked dangerous around the box – nodded onto the post from Palmer’s freekick before this all kicked off.
Palmer thought he had scored a deflected free-kick from 25 yards seconds before the break, when in fact it flew in off Curtis Jones, wrongfooting the goalkeeper. England led. They celebrated, perhaps a little bit too much in front of the other bench, staring them down. Then this really descended.
Spain were incensed, their coaching staff flying onto the pitch – players then becoming involved in what formed a mass brawl. It just carried on and on, Spain’s fitness coach Carlos Rivera picking out Cole; the pair’s confrontation earning them both straight reds. Jones had tried to calm down Cole and the substitutes’ tensions, pleading with them to focus.
That carried on into the tunnel, a lively scrap. ‘It was lucky but you create your own luck, don’t you? I was a bit frustrated with the game, they were going down and screaming,’ Palmer said. ‘So when we scored, the celebration might have been a bit over the top.’
Spain came alive, Abel Ruiz bulleting a header through Trafford from Gomez’s free-kick, only for the Braga striker to be standing offside. Ruiz somehow headed wide from a devilish Gomez cross, the creator – Manchester City’s third-choice left back – running proceedings.
Santi Denia’s side were creeping, territorially superior. Yet Trafford had still not had a save to complete until Ruiz’s drive on 69 minutes, Colwill a colossus with partner Taylor Harwood-Bellis marshalling a back four under increasing pressure.
England should have scored on breaks, Jones and Noni Madueke missing, and then disaster. Colwill clipped Ruiz. VAR. Penalty. Ruiz stepped up, Trafford guessed right, miraculously saving the rebound as well. Chaos. Ironically, Ruiz ended up the tournament’s Golden Boot winner.
‘In terms of what it can do for us, it can go a really long way,’ Gordon said. ‘We’ve not done this in 39 years. Achieving this for England goes a really long way and I’m just proud to be part of it.’
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