Friday, July 7, 2023

England and Spain Advance To U21 Euro Final

Pre-tournament favorites England and Spain will face off in the U21 Euro final on Saturday after both clubs encountered little difficulty in advancing past their semifinal opponents.

England remains unscored upon for the tournament after a 3-0 defeat of Israel. Morgan Gibbs-White atoned for an early missed penalty by finding the net for England’s first goal. The Nottingham Forest player headed in a perfectly placed cross from Manchester City’s Cole Palmer. Palmer would then score himself early in the second half, finding himself in perfect position to cash in on a well-placed ball across the goalmouth from Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe. Palmer would again be central to England’s third goal as his assist led to the final tally by Aston Villa’s Cameron Archer. Archer finished last season on loan at Middlesbrough and is likely headed for another loan stint this upcoming season. His England impact could modify that thinking, however, after Archer’s second goal of this tournament and fifth goal in nine appearances at the U21 level for the Young Lions. Palmer’s performance might also give Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola something to think about. The 21-year-old had just one goal and one assist in 14 Premier League matches last season for Manchester City and was thought to be a potential transfer or loan candidate this summer.

Guardiola is often faced with tough decisions at the bottom of his roster as the Premier League champions have a wealth of young rising talent. England U21 goalkeeper James Trafford now has five clean sheets in the tournament but appears headed to Burnley on a permanent transfer from Manchester City after earlier rumored interest from Leeds and Leicester. Trafford could find himself playing once again with current U21 teammate Taylor Harwood-Bellis. The center back, who is also a Manchester City property, helped Burnley and Manager Vincent Kompany earn promotion to the Premier League while on loan last season. Kompany, a former Manchester City center back, would like to continue having Harwood-Bellis under his command.

Spain will represent England’s most difficult challenge to date in the tournament. The Spaniards have won three of the last six U21 Euro tournaments and are a highly technical squad continually in attack mode. Liverpool midfielder Curtis Jones will have a key role on Saturday in trying to contain the Spanish attack. Despite Cole Palmer’s fireworks against Israel, it was Jones who was awarded Man of the Match against Israel by UEFA.

Playing a deeper role than he does for his Premier League club, Jones has been outstanding in controlling games for England. Spain demolished Ukraine 5-1 to advance to Saturday’s final. The fireworks were somewhat unexpected after the two clubs had drawn their group stage match and Ukraine scored the opening goal of the semifinal pairing. Spain, however, went on to shred Ukraine’s defense with the type of passing that will present a real threat to England on Saturday. Manchester City’s Sergio Gomez scored the final goal against Ukraine to put himself in a three-way tie with Spain teammate Abel Ruiz and Ukraine’s Georgiy Sudakov for the tournament’s Golden Boot. Having now reached the finals for the first time since 2009, England will now have to slow down the high-flying Spain attack if the Young Lions are to capture the tournament title for the first time since 1984.

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