ngland ended their 39-year wait to lift the Under-21 European Championship trophy with a 1-0 win as James Trafford produced a stunning penalty save to deny Spain deep into stoppage-time.
The Young Lions kept five consecutive clean sheets on their run to the final, and knew another one would secure silverware once Cole Palmer’s free-kick deflected off Jones and left Spanish goalkeeper Arnau Tenas wrong-footed.
Victory was seconds away for England, when the referee returned from a check of the pitchside monitor to point to the penalty spot, Levi Colwill deemed to have fouled Abel Ruiz.
Extra-time appeared inevitable, as Ruiz stepped up with the best part of 100 minutes on the clock, but Trafford saved his spot-kick, kept out the rebound from Aimar Oroz brilliantly and then watched a third effort fly over the bar. Morgan Gibbs-White and Antonio Blanco both saw red in that aftermath of that penalty-box drama, but that only briefly delayed the Young Lions’ celebrations.
For the third time ever, the first time since 1984 and in the most dramatic fashion imaginable, England secured European glory.
Micah Richards, James Milner and Theo Walcott were among those in the starting lineup when England last lined up in an U21 Euros final, that match 14 years ago ending in a heavy defeat to Germany.
A group-stage win over defending champions Germany was one of the standout displays from England in their run to the final this time, while Lee Carsley rewarded Palmer for his semi-final performance with a start as Max Aarons returned from suspension.
It was a flying start from the Young Lions, who could, and probably should, have taken an early lead. Anthony Gordon’s shot was parried away just out of reach from Palmer, before Gordon squared the ball to Gibbs-White seconds later and watched in frustration as he failed to make contact.
Six minutes had been played by that point, a spell that was a world away from what followed for much of the half. The yellow card got regular outings as stoppages stifled any flow, but that was swiftly forgotten as England took the lead in first-half stoppage time.
Palmer’s free-kick deflected off Jones and found the opposite corner to its intended destination, that goal sparking a touchline melee that resulted in Ashley Cole, part of the England coaching team, being sent off.
Spain thought they had equalised shortly after the break, as Ruiz powered a header past Trafford, but his alarming freedom in the middle was soon explained as the offside flag was raised, VAR then confirming that decision.
England were comfortable enough in seeing the match out for must of the half, and the Young Lions’ bench were poised to sprint on in celebration as the final seconds of what was set to be six minutes added on ticked away. They got their opportunity to do, but only after Trafford’s heroics.