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Monday, June 13, 2011
England stun Spain with late equaliser

Michael Huguenin, in Denmark

A last-gasp Danny Welbeck equaliser gave England a 1-1 draw and a share of the spoils in their European Under-21 Championships opener against a dominant Spain. Following in the tradition of Barcelona and La Roja's senior national team, the Spanish youngsters wowed the Danish crowd with crisp tiki-taka. But the Spaniards' beautiful football and majority of possession didn't result in enough serious chances. After a tough first half, England emerged after the break full of energy and pressed Spain all over the pitch. But the Young Lions had to wait until the 87th minute to beat Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea and level the scores. Deservedly, England's best player created the goal. Defender Kyle Walker was released down the right hand side and crossed to Welbeck, who stood all alone in the penalty area; the 20-year-old turned on the edge of the six-yard box to score easily. Walker impressed throughout with his brutal speed, in front of his club manager, Tottenham's Harry Redknapp. The right-back almost set up a goal in the final minute of the first half after he flew past two Spaniards to send in a wicked cross, but as England striker Daniel Sturridge flicked the ball on, De Gea just palmed it out for a corner. In general though, Spain were the better side. The Spanish midfield pair of Thiago Alcantra and Ander Herrera linked well and kept the Spanish engine purring. Thiago was rated as one to watch before the match and didn't disappoint. The Barcelona youngster's ability to create space with a shake of his hips particularly caught the eye. A classic example was in the 32nd minute: Thiago shimmied past England's Michael Mancienne and burst forward, but the creative midfielder blasted the ball just over the bar. Herrera was the perfect foil to Thiago. Although not as fancy as his teammate, the Real Zaragoza midfielder was always in the right spot to receive a pass and move the ball on. Plus, when required, he had the tricks and speed to attack. The only black mark on Herrera's performance was his controversial opening goal. In the 14th minute, Javi Martinez headed Thiago's corner towards the net and Herrera nipped in at the back post to score, but replays showed his hand rather than his head prodded the ball into the net. However, after the match, England's coach Stuart Pearce claimed he was impressed by Spain's possession football and challenged his players to take a leaf out of their opponent's book. "We have to express our talent a touch more and show a bit more arrogance on the football field," Pearce explained.

Czechs extend unbeaten run

In the other Group B match, Czech captain Borek Dockal extended his side's unbeaten run to eleven matches with a 2-1 victory over Ukraine. The Czechs were unbeaten in ten qualification matches in the lead up to the finals in Denmark. After the third goalless first half from four matches so far this tournament, Dockal set the match in Viborg alight after the break. The Slovan Liberec midfielder's first goal was the pick of the two. A flowing move, which involved the Czech skipper on more than one occasion, ended when Dockal hit a sweet half volley from just inside the penalty area into the far corner.

Shaq-attack downs Danes

In Group A, Swiss attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri disappointed almost ten thousand local fans in the northern city of Aalborg as he inspired his side to a 1-0 victory over tournament-hosts Denmark. Shaqiri was the main bright point in a dull first half. The stocky schemer created the best chance before half-time with a delightful chip over the Danish defence to Innocent Emeghara. Emeghara, clear through on goal, only managed to volley the ball into the ground and Denmark's goalkeeper, Mikkel Andersen, parried the shot over the bar. Shaqiri continued in the second half. Three minutes after the break the FC Basel youngster collected the loose ball, slalomed through a group of seven Danish players and slotted his left-foot shot past Andersen into the bottom corner. "He's a very talented player, maybe a bit more talented than we'd expected," admitted Denmark's Nicolai Jorgensen after the game. The home side had a handful of good chances to equalise after Shaqiri's opener but failed to beat Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Denmark finally hit the back of the net with the last kick of the game, but Nicki Bille Nielsen's goal was ruled out for what looked like a harsh offside call.

Belarus steal points in Aarhus

In the other Group A match, Belarus stunned Iceland on the latter's debut at a major tournament. Iceland dominated but Belarus claimed the three points with two goals in ten minutes. Iceland, who had controlled possession in the first half, stepped up a gear after the break but wasted a handful of clear chances, with Kolbeinn Sigthorsson the main offender. In the 77th minute Belarus awoke. Dinamo Minsk midfielder Stanislav Dragun dribbled past two players only to be felled in the box by Icelandic defensive midfielder Aron Gunnarsson, who had been his country's best player. Gunnarsson was sent off and Andrei Voronkov scored from the penalty spot. Dragun impressed in the second half playing in behind the main striker, Voronkov. In the 80th minute his long-range drive was deflected away from the bottom corner by Iceland's goalkeeper Haraldur Bjornsson and four minutes later the Belarus No. 2 almost set up a second goal. Substitute Maksim Skavysh ran on to Dragun's precise long ball and crossed, but Aleksandr Perepech shot just wide. Skavysh sealed the victory not long after when he ran onto another long ball and chipped the ball over Bjornsson. The Icelandic players disappointment was clear. "We should have won this game," Johann Gudmundsson said. "We were much better than Belarus, that's for sure because we controlled the game all the way through and should have scored before they did."

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