Under-21s: Gibbs draws strength from cruel slip

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The Independent Football

Nobody said it would be easy – it merely looked that way when Kieran Gibbs suddenly became an England Under-21 international just as a vacancy occurred at left-back, and burst into Arsenal's first team in time for the Champions' League knockout stage. All was going swimmingly until the seventh minute of the semi- final second leg at home to Manchester United, when one of those moments occurred that can scar a player for ever.

Cristiano Ronaldo went down the left and crossed, but instead of making a routine clearance, Gibbs slipped and the ball fell for Park Ji-Sung to leave Arsenal needing three goals to go through. The tie was effectively over and Gibbs was withdrawn at half-time from the biggest game of his career. Two months later, the scars are fading but, more importantly, a lesson has been absorbed that is beloved of the man sitting next to him at the training ground here yesterday. The Under-21s manager, Stuart Pearce, emphasised, not for the first time: "All the adversity I've suffered made me stronger."

Gibbs added: "I felt disappointed, not for myself but for the team and the people I thought I had let down. I received a lot of support after that and that got me through it for the rest of the season. I think it showed a mental strength to come back from that. But I'm trying to forget about that now."

The task in hand is Group B of the European Championship, in which England are the only team to have won a game. Victory over Spain in Gothenburg today would ensure qualification for next week's semi-final. Gibbs had a fine game in the 2-1 win over Finland on Monday to follow up his two goals in the previous week's friendly against Azerbaijan when he moved into midfield for the second half.

Pearce is genuinely impressed by the demeanour of Gibbs, a south London boy, and his club-mate Theo Walcott: "I have two Arsenal players in my squad and both are exactly the same. Players have to grow up and mature very quickly these days."

Having taken off Walcott at half-time against Finland, he seems certain to offer him another chance this evening against a Spanish side hoping to embarrass the English with their superior technique as effectively as their seniors did in February's 2-0 win. Fernando Hierro, the former Bolton midfielder now Spain's technical director, said: "We have a big generation of marvellous, young, talented, technically very skilful and physically strong players. Spanish football worked very hard to develop these kind of players."

It is a fair prediction that with Pearce on the touchline, Gibbs and his team-mates will not just be standing off and admiring them tonight.

England (4-3-3, probable): Hart (Manchester City); Cranie (Portsmouth), Richards, Onuoha (both Manchester City), Gibbs (Arsenal); Noble (West Ham), Muamba (Bolton), Cattermole (Wigan); Walcott (Arsenal), Agbonlahor, Milner (both Aston Villa).

Spain (4-2-3-1, probable): Asenjo (Valladolid); Miguel Torres (Real Madrid), Sergio, Torejon (both Espanyol), Monreal (Osasuna); Raul Garcia (Atletico Madrid), Javi Martinez (Bilbao); Pedro Sanchez (Vaaladolid), Bojan (Barcelona), Jurado (Atletico Madrid); Granero (Getafe).

Referee: B Kuipers (Netherlands).

Remember their names: Spain's rising stars

Bojan Krkic Barcelona

A quiet game in the goalless draw with Germany should not cause anyone to think they can easily subdue the 18-year-old, who will float just behind the main striker. Beat England with his goal in the final of the European Under-17 Championship two years ago.

Jose Manuel Jurado Atletico Madrid

Leading scorer in the qualifying competition, the attacking midfielder is also well known to England, having given Spain a 2-0 lead in Stuart Pearce's first match as coach 16 months ago. A product of Real Madrid's youth system, he spent last season on loan at Mallorca.

Miguel Torres Real Madrid

Brought into the Real Madrid side as a teenager by an admiring Fabio Capello, Torres has already won two La Liga titles and one Spanish Cup. Can play at either right- or left-back and is keen to push forward down the flank.

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