England keen to sink Spain challenge

The finals might only be a few days old but already England have the opportunity to land a decisive blow and claim a semi-final spot by beating fellow big hitters Spain in their second Group B game.

England manager Stuart Pearce directs operations in training
England manager Stuart Pearce directs operations in training ©Getty Images

The UEFA European Under-21 Championship might still be in its first week but already England have the opportunity to land a decisive blow and secure a semi-final berth by beating fellow big hitters Spain in their second Group B game in Gothenburg.

'Character in adversity'
Having overcome the first-half dismissal of Michael Mancienne to defeat Finland 2-1 on Monday, Stuart Pearce's side hold the early initiative in the section yet the England manager believes considerable improvement is required. "We didn't play anywhere near our full potential and it's very disappointing in that respect," he said. "Our passing wasn't good enough and we didn't hurt the opposition. The only time Finland hurt us was with basic straight balls over the top which caught us out, costing us a player, a penalty and a goal. Apart from that, I never felt we were really troubled. We showed character in adversity and I'm happy to have these boys in my corner every day. We have a strong will which always gives you a chance."

Spanish ties
Match-winner Micah Richards picked up a thigh injury against Finland while Nedum Onouha (groin), James Milner (thigh) and Adam Johnson (hip) have minor knocks, Pearce saying: "Fingers crossed for all of them but that's why we have a squad of 23." The England manager enjoyed one of the most iconic moments of his illustrious playing career when converting a penalty against Spain in EURO '96™ and first took charge of the U21 side in a 2-2 draw against the same opponents in February 2007 but describes this match as "my biggest test". "They're an extremely good side and play the same way through the age groups," he added. "There's a good interchange of movement up front. We're aware of their strengths and also aware of ours. We were disappointed with the way we played the other night but there'll be better to come. The players are determined to put in a performance."

'Decisive match'
Spain are likely to have goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo and Diego Capel available despite ankle problems picked up in the goalless draw with Germany, and coach Juan Ramón López Caro is also anticipating an improved display. "We know this match could be decisive for both teams so we need to play well," he said. "England are a disciplined team, they have plenty of physical strength and are really quick. They're also good at switching play and dangerous on the counterattack. It will be a game played at high intensity but we'll definitely play with our own philosophy and try to impose our style."

Attacking intent
A statue of Gunnar Gren stands outside the Gamla Ullevi and Spain could certainly do with some of the former IFK Göteborg and AC Milan forward's predatory instincts as they go in search of their first goal in a U21 final tournament since 4 June 2000. López Caro, however, has faith his attacking players will come good, adding: "They're already really experienced and have shown plenty of maturity. Without doubt that will bear fruit in the future. It's up to me and the coaching staff to see if we need to make changes, but really we'll be looking to work on making little improvements."