A late goal by Danny Welbeck earned England a 1-1 draw and prevented Spain capitalising on a dominant performance on the first day of Group B action in Herning.
After taking the lead through Ander Herrera in the 14th minute, Spain suggested they could be the likelier of the two teams to go on to win the UEFA European Under-21 Championship for a third time. However, Welbeck denied them the early edge in the section when he steered in the equaliser with the clock showing 88 minutes.
Spain's breakthrough came from the second of two corners in as many minutes. The first, for England, produced a pair of menacing headers from Chris Smalling. Once that danger had abated, Luis Milla's men countered, won a set piece of their own and scored.
For all the purist principles expounded pre-match on behalf of these heirs to the world and European champions, the goal had a curious source of origin – a dead ball delivered by Thiago Alcántara, knocked down by Javi Martínez and turned in at the back post by the stooping Ander.
Never mind Spanish pass and move, England could only regret the poor marking that had afforded the opposition two free headers. Ander and Javi Martínez promptly resumed the role of providing a solid platform for the fluid midfield frontrunners of Thiago, Juan Mata and Jeffren. It was a more conventional winger, Danny Rose, who almost fashioned a first-half equaliser for England, but his flashing cross was measured just too sharply for Daniel Sturridge.
The stretching forward did connect with right-back Kyle Walker's centre from the other flank close to the interval, requiring David de Gea to turn the ball behind. It was the first instance of Spain's much-touted keeper being scrambled into action since a poor Álvaro Domínguez back pass early in the game.
The next notable save was made by England No1 Frank Fielding, a second-half tipover from Ander's deflected strike. Another Ander shot elicited a double block from England's two centre-halves, Smalling and Phil Jones.
Both countries had lost just one of ten matches in qualifying, yet it was Spain who consistently found their rhythm in the teams' tournament curtain-raiser. Martín Montoya ended one sweeping move with a shot into the side netting. The buzzing Jeffren caused his markers many anxious moments, although Sturridge also kept the Spanish back line occupied.
The latter were eventually undone after Walker's forward surge created the opportunity for Sturridge's strike partner Welbeck to show a cool head by rolling the ball past De Gea and restoring parity at the death.
Just as it does not go completely dark at night here in Jutland as midsummer approaches, so it was premature to think the lights had gone out on England.