England kicked off their UEFA Under-21 championship with a hard earned 1-1 draw against tournament favourites Spain.
An early goal from Ander Herrera against the run of play put the Spanish side in command from the start, leaving the young England stars with a daunting task ahead. The opening goal was surprisingly forged from a set piece in which the former Zaragoza youngster handled the ball as he knocked it into the England goal.
However, there were no complaints from the opposition, and the goal stood.
The goal seemed to send a shock through the young England stars as the Spanish began to dominate with passing reminiscent of the senior side. The Barcelona passing style has been incorporated by the youngsters, and they used it well, keeping possession of the ball for large parts of the game.
Thigao Alcantara, Ander Herrero and Javi Martinez were fantastic at passing and moving around the midfield, frustrating a static England midfield. At times they showed similarities with the Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets trio.
Over-confidence set in amongst the Spanish as they passed the ball around midfield throughout the second half without really penetrating the England defence. The team, captained by World Cup winner, Javi Martinez seemed to believe they had already won the game and struggled to make any clear cut chances thereafter.
Stuart Pearce’s men showed great determination to get themselves back into the game and showed they will not be bullied into submission by Spain’s passing game. Players such as Tom Cleverley showed moments of beautiful technical ability and movement, but it was the team spirit and never say die attitude that was the most significant aspect of the England performance.
The England boss spoke after the game of his desire for his young team to play with a bit more "arrogance" as they looked fearful of their opposition at times. The players need to understand that they have quality and experience largely unmatched at this level and have the ability to beat anyone.
The game gave Stuart Pearce a lot to think about in terms of player selection for the remainder of the tournament as many outstanding individual displays were marred by several poor performers.
Liverpool’s new signing, Jordan Henderson did nothing to show why he is supposedly worth his £20 million price tag. The former Sunderland man showed he is a real box-to-box midfielder who tried really hard throughout the game, but at times, he tried too hard.
The midfielder played in a deep playmaker role but tried too hard to play killer balls when an easy, short pass was the better option. His recent move seems to have given him unwarranted confidence as he attempted to take on several players at a time, giving the ball away far too regularly, often in his own half.
The attack of Danny Rose, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge were a mixed bag on the night, showing enthusiasm going forward but were indecisive in front of goal. Rose seemed to use the ball well as he brought the ball forward with his dribbling ability and pace, but as he entered the final third, he seemed over excited and struggled to dictate the weight of his passing.
Many through balls he attempted were over-hit, leaving Welbeck no chance with his runs through the middle. Rose’s crosses were at times a threat but were largely too powerful, sending the ball well over every attacker and out for a throw-in.
Scott Sinclair came on as a late substitute but should have started on the left wing as he is not afraid to get the ball and run at defence, cuts inside which would give Welbeck someone to play off. Welbeck was a constant nuisance for defenders and scored a good goal but struggled to get involved in the game as much as he would have liked.
The young Manchester United striker does not look like a natural goal scorer but is showing real potential as a future England star.
England’s defence was the shining light on the night and look a very stable unit for the future in the senior side. The central defensive partnership of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones looks really strong and will hopefully be playing alongside each other at Old Trafford for years to come.
The two young defenders look to be the natural replacements for Rio Ferdinand and John Terry in the England senior side.
Phil Jones proved his natural ability to take up perfect positions to anticipate opposition attack as the Spanish struggled to figure out a way past his over-powering physique. He is also a defender that looks to play the ball out from the back as he showed off his passing credentials throughout.
Chris Smalling was absolutely outstanding and was a definite candidate for man of the match as he read the game to absolute perfection. The Manchester United man showed his experience on many occasions breaking down attacks and also taking the ball forward, proving he is Ferdinand’s heir at Old Trafford.
Ashley Cole’s understudy at Chelsea, Ryan Bertrand also had a decent game at left back and showed his potential to make the position his own in the coming seasons.
The supposed "Golden Generation" of England never lived up to their name at South Africa last year and in all, embarrassed the traditions and heritage of English football.
These emerging young starts however, are showing new ideas in the way they play, starting to incorporate technical ability with dogged determination and desire to never give up on a game.
This England team look in good stead to do well in the remainder of the Euros and will probably meet Spain again in the Final. They will have learnt from this experience and next time will hopefully show the arrogance Stuart Pearce wants from his team.
These bearers of the Three Lions badge will learn from the Spanish and mix the art of possession football with winning mentality. They may not be the next great stars of world football, but this next "golden generation" of England will, unlike their predecessors, fight until the very last as they show early signs of champions.