Trafford the hero in England U21s glory as penalty save beats Spain


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James Trafford was the hero for England as his 98th-minute penalty save saw the Under-21s clinch their first European title in 39 years by beating an ill-disciplined Spain 1-0 in the final.

The Burnley goalkeeper saved Abel Ruiz’s spot kick in virtually the last kick of the game to spark jubilant scenes from the England bench.

The Young Lions were coasting to victory after Curtis Jones’ fortunate goal put them ahead in first-half stoppage time. The Liverpool midfielder diverted Cole Palmer’s free-kick in after ducking into the wall during first-half stoppage time.

The England celebrations sparked a mass brawl between both sets of players and benches, which led to assistant manager Ashley Cole being given a red card and marching orders from the touchline.

England's players celebrate their 1-0 victory in the Euro 2023 U21 Championship final soccer match between England and Spain at the Batumi Arena stadium in Batumi, Georgia, Saturday, July 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Tamuna Kulumbegashvili)
James Trafford’s late penalty save was the moment of the match

And despite Spain’s Ruiz seeing one goal ruled out for offside with the help of VAR – on top of having a close-range header bounce wide in La Roja’s best chance, England were relatively untroubled until the sixth minute of second half injury time.

VAR deemed that Ruiz was fouled by Levi Colwill but the Spain striker saw his spot kick saved by Trafford – whose late save ensured he did not concede a goal in the entire tournament.

England match ratings

England: Trafford (9); Garner (8), Harwood-Bellis (8), Colwill (8), Aarons (7); Palmer (8), Gomes (7), Jones (8), Smith Rowe (7); Gordon (7), Gibbs-White (7)

Subs: Madueke (7), Skipp (6), Archer (6), Elliott (n/a), Doyle (n/a)

Player of the match: James Trafford

Red cards for Morgan Gibbs-White and Antonio Blanco, who had both been substituted, in the wake of the penalty save meant a spicy final ended in with 30 fouls, 11 yellow cards and four reds handed to players and coaches on the bench.

But the man of the moment was Trafford, who revealed after the game that he predicted he would make a penalty save in the morning of the game.

“I told everyone this morning I was going to save a pen,” he said. “When they got a penalty, I knew I was going to save it.”

Asked about the team’s record of not conceding a goal all tournament, the goalkeeper added: “It means a lot for us, the record.

“We believed that no one could scored against us, and we showed it.”

How mature Lions clinched title

Playing in their first U21 final in 14 years and under the eye of Gareth Southgate in the stands, England started brightly with Anthony Gordon at the heart of two big attacks in the first six minutes.

The Newcastle winger saw a rasping effort well saved, with Palmer unable to tap in the rebound. Seconds later, Gordon was released down the left and unselfishly squared to Morgan Gibbs-White, who couldn’t find a touch for another simple tap-in.

England's players celebrates after scoring their side's first goal scored by Curtis Jones during the Euro 2023 U21 Championship final soccer match between England and Spain at the Batumi Arena stadium in Batumi, Georgia, Saturday, July 8, 2023
Curtis Jones and Cole Palmer celebrate England’s opener

The two chances promised a lot regarding England’s intentions, but Spain grew into the game as they held on to 60 per cent possession in the first half. Aitor Paredes headed a corner wide at the near post, before Sergio Gomez and Alex Baena put good chances wide of Trafford’s far post.

With the half ending, England stepped up a gear and hit the woodwork as Colwill’s header bounced off the upright from Palmer’s free-kick.

But it was another set-piece from the Man City player that led to England’s opener. Palmer’s free-kick came off the ducking Jones in the wall and past the flapping Arnau Tenas.

Palmer went to celebrate with the England bench only for the opposite camp to react with fury. A mass brawl led to Colwill and Oihan Sancet being booked – before England assistant manager Cole and another member of the Spain coaching staff were given their marching orders from the touchline.

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Lee Hendrie reacts to England’s goal against Spain in the U21’s European Championship final and the fallout which saw coach Ashley Cole sent off

Both sides had calmed down come the restart and Spain thought they had an equaliser when Ruiz headed home from a Spain free-kick. But VAR would save England as it helped the officials rule it out for offside.

Max Aarons and Jones forced Tenas into sharp stops before Ruiz missed Spain’s best chance of the game – nodding wide from inside the area when found completely unmarked.

England maintained their composure as the Spanish frustration, through fouls and bookings, tallied up, and nearly found a second when substitute Noni Madueke was denied by Tenas on the break with the goal gaping.

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Lee Hendrie reacts to James Trafford’s late heroics for England U21s with a double save from a late penalty against Spain in the European U21 Championship final

But there was more drama as Ruiz went down under Colwill’s challenge and referee Espen Eskås sought help from VAR to award Spain their last-gasp spot kick.

Ruiz went right, but Trafford read the penalty as the new £19m Burnley goalkeeper made a priceless double save.

More touchline frustration in the wake of the penalty miss saw Antonio Blanco and Gibbs-White sent off for second yellow cards – but it was the England bench who ran away victorious come the full-time whistle.

‘Whole team deserves credit for shutout’

England Under-21s have won the European Championships title
England Under-21s have won the European Championships title

England Under-21s captain Taylor Harwood-Bellis:

“With our history, there was a lot of pressure on us to do well, and I’m buzzing, not just for me but all of the lads and the coaching staff. It’s one big family and it feels like a club. Everyone deserves it and we’ll celebrate together.

“Traff will get a lot of credit, which he thoroughly deserves, but it’s down to all the team. Even the lads who didn’t play too many minutes, but played against Germany who are a top team and nation so it’s not easy to keep a clean sheet against them.

“The other lads were pushing us when we were starting and then when they were starting, we were pushing them, and that’s something we pride ourselves on.

“I thought we deserved the win. The whole group; the togetherness, the intensity in training and everyone wants to be here. There’s not one player who has pulled the group down, even the boys who aren’t playing have been the best around the place and that’s something you can’t buy.

“We talk about how we forget about the games when we’re at the hotel, we play games and wind each other up and there’s no-one you can’t sit and have a chat or coffee with and of course, the quality of all 23 players. But for me, it’s about the togetherness of the team.”

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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