The cream of England's young footballers succeeded where where their elders had failed last night, while assuring themselves of a place in the European Under-21 Championship semi-final for the second successive tournament. Fabio Capello's senior side were outplayed in Seville four months ago and for a while it looked as if Stuart Pearce's team might receive a similar lesson in Gothenburg. They refused to be mesmerised by Spain's passing, however, and claimed a second victory in Group B. James Milner even had a penalty saved, which was atoned for when he scored the second goal, created by Arsenal's Theo Walcott, who had been dropped and was only introduced for the last half-hour.
His arrival had an instant impact in putting some pressure on the Spanish defence, which suddenly collapsed. European champions at senior level, Spain will be eliminated here unless they defeat Finland on Monday and Germany lose to England, who need a draw to win the group.
Fluent as their passing was early on, the Spaniards found difficulty in bypassing Bolton's holding midfielder Fabrice Muamba, who was excellent. "I don't agree it was a big call," Pearce said of his decision to play Middlesbrough's Adam Johnson instead of Walcott. "Theo was disappointed but put a performance on, not just going forward, but helping his full-back."
Gamble or not – Walcott had been poor in the win over Finland, when he was substituted after 45 minutes – Pearce will have enhanced his credentials as a coach with his Capello-like refusal to pander to the biggest name in his squad. Only in the first quarter of an hour did England look uncomfortable.
Nedum Onuoha misplaced a backpass and if the strong wind had been blowing in the opposite direction it would probably have beaten goalkeeper Joe Hart, who scrambled to clear.
As England asserted themselves, Sergio Asenjo, made a fine save low to his right to parry Milner's penalty kick after the Villa man, had been tripped by Javi Garcia. Soon afterwards Gabriel Agbonlahor began slowing up and Fraizer Campbell was sent on. Kieran Gibbs, excellent again at left-back, was also struggling with an injury and when Javi Martinez went past him for the first time, Hart raced unwisely from goal and was stranded as the midfielder crossed, forcing Martin Cranie to hack off the line.
That was the last moment of anxiety for England. Walcott came on to a roar and within 10 minutes the game changed dramatically. First, Milner won possession in a dangerous position and fed Campbell, who turned inside Garcia and finished well. Six minutes after that Walcott was sent down the left by Lee Cattermole and outpaced Garcia before cutting the ball back for Milner to complete a notable victory.
England (4-1-2-3): Hart (Manchester City); Cranie (Portsmouth), Richards, Onuoha (both Manchester City), Gibbs (Arsenal); Muamba (Bolton); Cattermole (Wigan), Noble (West Ham); Milner, Agbonlahor (both Aston Villa), Johnson (Middlesbrough). Substitutes used: Campbell (Manchester United) for Agbonlahor, 38; Walcott (Arsenal) for Johnson, 61; Gardner (Aston Villa) for Milner, 83.
Spain (4-1-2-3): Asenjo (Valladolid); Azpilicueta (Osasuna), Javi Garcia (Real Madrid), Torejon (Espanyol), Monreal (Osasuna); Mario Suarez (Mallorca); Javi Martinez (Bilbao), Raul Garcia (Atletico Madrid); Adrian Lopez (Deportivo La Coruña), Bojan (Barcelona), Jurado (Atletico Madrid). Substitute used: Capel (Seville) for Bojan 57; Xisco (Newcastle) for Javi Martinez, 69; Pedro Leon (Valladolid) for Suarez, 80.
Referee: B Kuipers (Netherlands).
Theo Walcott used all his pace then kept his head to lay on a perfect pass for Milner to score.
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Scouting report from Under 21s European Championship
Gojko Kacar Hertha Berlin and Serbia
The versatile Kacar can play in most defensive or midfield positions, but his most spectatcular achievement to date was scoring five goals in one game as the Serbian Under-21s beat Hungary 8-0 last September. Hit the post with an acrobatic effort against Italy on Tuesday. Do not pick a fight with this man - two of his family have Olympic boxing medals.Reuse content