Spain 1 (Herrera 14)
England 1 (Welbeck 88)
Stuart Pearce had experimented with a more flexible formation in England Under-21’s final preparations for the tournament, but decided on a more traditional system with two recognised central strikers. Selecting Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck as those front men gave England a flexibility within a setup that is often criticised as rigid. Both are comfortable in wide areas, having being utilised there in the Premier League, presenting opportunities for England’s midfield to penetrate the space created by either Sturridge or Welbeck dragging the central defenders wide from deep. However, for the most part, Spain was able to nullify this threat simply by populating that space with its central players; denying England a sight at the prize with almost mousetrap-like effect.
Whilst Spain can be applauded for its well-worked set-piece ploy which led to the opening goal, inadequate English defending was the main cause for falling behind. The Spanish near-post runners may have looked to create confusion, but as the ball made its way towards Ander Herrera, England were still in a situation where it was two-against-one in their favour. Ryan Bertrand was the man tasked to mark Herrera, with Tom Cleverley assigned to guard the far post. Had it not been for Bertrand’s lapse in concentration – allowing Herrera to drift away from his marker – then England’s primary source of defence at the far post could have prevented the ball being directed goalwards. As a result, the space afforded to the Spanish midfielder enabled him to angle his header beyond the second line of defence, being Cleverley on the goal line, to score.
With Cleverley deployed on the right-hand side of midfield, Kyle Walker had someone in front of him capable of slipping the ball into space for the right-back. His forays forward in the first-half were limited due to Spanish dominance, in particular Jeffren aiming to detain Walker from going forward, but the right-back escaped as the interval approached – his searching cross forced a scrambling save from David de Gea. Walker’s defining moment in the game saw him take a leaf out of the Spanish coaching manual for wide play. Instead of racing to the byline as he had done previously, the full-back meandered inside before picking out Welbeck who slotted home.
Having replaced Mancienne with Jack Rodwell midway through the second-half, England had greater balance in the central midfield area. Mancienne, although experienced in midfield positions, afforded Javi Martinez too much space when in possession. The introduction of Rodwell – more of a box-to-box midfielder – suggested that England aimed to press higher up the pitch; utilising the substitute in tandem with usual midfield partner Jordan Henderson, rather than the single man pressing from England’s midfield in the first-half, which proved all too easy to counter by moving the ball around the sole challenger for possession.
With England pressurising in advanced areas, the closing moments of the game saw them retrieve the ball in an attacking position. Had the young Three Lions manoeuvred the ball quickly, or Rodwell’s curled shot been on target, Pearce’s alteration may have produced the unlikeliest of victories after being outclassed for much of the contest.
67- Lansbury on for Rose
67- Rodwell on for Mancienne
81- Sinclair on for Cleverley