James Trafford saved a stoppage-time penalty to earn England European Under-21 Championship glory for the first time in 39 years as they edged past Spain.
The Manchester City goalkeeper repelled Abel Ruiz’s spot-kick, awarded after a VAR review in the sixth minute of added time, and then kept out substitute Aimar Oroz’s follow-up at the end of a pulsating contest at the Batumi Arena in Georgia.
In the process, he became the first man to keep six clean sheets at the finals to help his side claim glory courtesy of a 1-0 victory, having not conceded a single goal at the tournament.
Liverpool Curtis Jones’ had earlier given England, playing in front of senior boss Gareth Southgate, the lead in first-half stoppage time when he deflected Cole Palmer’s free-kick past keeper Arnau Tenas.
A third title and a first since 1984 was delivered on a dramatic evening in Georgia which saw England coach Ashley Cole and one of his Spanish counterparts, as well as substituted midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White and Spain’s Antonio Blanco, sent off on the sidelines.
Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon made his presence felt early on, cutting inside from Emile Smith Rowe’s pass to force Tenas into a fifth-minute save, with Palmer unable to convert the rebound, then turning smartly and crossing unselfishly to hand Gibbs-White a tap-in, had it not been for defender Jon Pacheco’s intervention.
The Spanish response was concerted as Manchester City’s Sergio Gomez and Braga striker Ruiz brought their influence to bear.
England celebrate taking the lead (PA).
Trafford was sent sprawling across his goal by Alex Baena’s 16th-minute strike before defender Aitor Paredes glanced Gomez’s corner across goal, with Ruiz unable to reach the ball before it ran out of play.
England, who had been guilty of repeatedly surrendered possession cheaply, started to fire, Palmer warming Tenas’ hands with a well-struck 25-yard drive and defender Levi Colwill heading Palmer’s free-kick against a post with the keeper beaten.
But the Manchester City man played a key role as the deadlock was broken on the stroke of half-time. After Palmer had been tripped by club-mate Gomez, Jones, making a nuisance of himself in front of the defensive wall, unwittingly deflected his free-kick past the helpless Tenas.
Colwill and Oihan Sancet were booked and England coach Cole and one of his Spanish counterparts sent off amid a melee in the wake of the goal, but the former Arsenal and Chelsea full-back’s side led at the break.
England goalkeeper James Trafford is congratulated following his penalty save (PA).
Ruiz thought he had levelled within six minutes of the restart, but his bullet header from a Gomez free-kick was correctly ruled offside, although England looked rattled with Spain making a big push in the early stages of the half.
However, they rallied and, with full-back Max Aarons providing another outlet down the left, began the threaten once again and Gibbs-White might have done better from Gordon’s 64th-minute pull-back, with the Spanish stretched.
Tenas kept Spain in it by clawing away Jones’ attempt at the end of a pacy break seconds later and Ruiz should have levelled when he got his head to to Gomez’s 68th-minute cross, but missed the target by inches.
But as the clock ticked towards the 96th minute, Norwegian referee Espen Eskas was advised to take a second look at Colwill’s challenge on Ruiz and ultimately pointed to the spot, but Trafford’s heroics sparked wild English celebrations.