England have won the European Championship… albeit the Under-21 version. But when the Youngs Lions held their nerve to beat Spain by 1-0 in Georgia it was the first time England had achieved the feat since 1984.
In this article we’ll run through how England’s possible superstars of tomorrow conquered Europe, and we’ll look back to previous successes in the tournament and examine how well the players kicked on in their careers.
How England Won the European Under-21 Champions 2023
As tournament performances go, you can’t do much better than winning every game and not conceding a single goal. But under the assured guidance of the former Everton (among other clubs) player, Lee Carsley, that’s exactly what this England side achieved. And given that the Young Lions were drawn in a group alongside Germany (and Israel and Czech Republic), it’s certainly an achievement to applaud.
Carsley’s men kicked things off in Group C with a confident 2-0 victory over the Czechs, with goals from Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsey and Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe. They followed up with another 2-0 victory, this time over Israel, in which Smith Rowe grabbed his second of the tournament and Newcastle United’s Anthony Gordon, ultimately crowned the player of the tournament, scored the other.
Then came the biggest test to that point as the Young Lions faced the ever-imposing Germany. But unlike when the sides clashed in the 2009 final (see below), England took control of the game and did not relinquish it. England ran out 2-0 victors with goals from Harvey Elliott (Liverpool) and Cameron Archer (Aston Villa).
England Ease Through Knockout Rounds
England faced Portugal in the quarters, who had surprisingly finished second in their group behind host nation Georgia. It wasn’t a classic game and Carsley’s side had to show real discipline and maturity to withstand barrages of attacks from their opponents. But they stood up to the challenge brilliantly and in the end a single goal was all that was required, with Gordon proving his worth once again as he struck from inside the area.
In the semi, England once again encountered Israel. And this time they went one better than they had in the group match between them as they won 3-0. Unlike the Portugal game, England controlled this one in an imperious performance that saw them earn 67% of the possession and muster 16 shots (six of which were on target). The goals came from Morgan Gibbs-White (Nottingham Forest), Cole Palmer (Manchester City), and another for Archer.
Tense, Ill-Tempered Final
Then came the final where England faced Spain, who’d hammered Ukraine 5-1 in their semi. Although England were high on confidence, Carsley and his players knew they were not going to walk to victory. As it turned out, Spain had by far the most of the possession (65%) and mustered lots more shots (21 to England’s eight). But England were more accurate, with six shots on target to Spain’s rather wasteful four. The match was settled by a single England goal, a deflected Curtis Jones free kick from just outside the box in first half stoppage time.
The second half was all about England hanging on to their lead and they rode their luck at times. And in a match that was rather ill-tempered (to say the least), it was surprising that both sides retained 11 players … at least until well into stoppage time at the end of the game.
Speaking of stoppage time, that’s when the real drama occurred after an innocuous-looking challenge in England’s penalty area alerted the VAR team who asked the ref to take a look. With barely seconds left of the match, the official awarded Spain a penalty and the chance to draw level.
Then up stepped the hero of the moment, goalkeeper James Trafford. Soon to become the third most expensive English keeper ever (when he moved to Burnley), Trafford held his nerve to save the spot kick. He then had the wherewithal to get up and save the rebound too, sending the England fans and players into raptures.
There’s little doubt some of the players in England’s triumph will make it big, with Trafford being near the top of the list. But let’s take a look back at previous England wins (or near wins) and see what happened to the key players from those under-21 squads.
England’ Best European Under-21 Championship Performances
|1982||Winners||Dave Sexton||Gary Mabbutt, Steve McMahon, Andy Ritchie, Mark Hateley|
|1984||Winners||Dave Sexton||Gary Mabbutt, Steve Hodge, Mark Hateley, Gary Stevens, Dave Watson|
|2009||Runner Up||Stuart Pearce||Micah Richards, Theo Walcott, Mark Noble, James Milner|
|2023||Winners||Lee Carlsey||James Trafford, Anthony Gordon, Jacob Ramsey, Emile Smith Rowe, Levi Colwill|
As you can see from the key players mentioned from the best England U21 performances of days gone by, there are certainly some that had exceptional careers at some of the biggest clubs in the land… and indeed in Europe.
Mark Hateley, for instance, was the top scorer in the Under-21 Euros in 1984, and he went on to have a glittering career, most notably north of the border with Rangers, with whom he won six league titles and plenty of cups. He also won the French title with Monaco, before which he even had a stint playing for AC Milan.
Tottenham Hotspur hero Gary Mabbutt featured in both England’s U21 Euros wins in the 1980s, and he went on to win the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup with Spurs. Though many will remember him for scoring for both his side Tottenham, and their opponents Coventry City, in the 1987 FA Cup final (in which Mabbutt’s own goal handed Coventry the surprise victory).
Then there’s Premier League and FA Cup winner Micah Richards, who had a fine career at Manchester City and Aston Villa before moving into punditry, where he has won plenty of plaudits.
Of course, for all the Mark Hateleys, Micah Richards and Gary Mabbutts, there are those who showed lots of promise at under-21 level, but who never quite made it to the very top. As such, the likes of Kevin Brock, Nigel Callaghan, Peter Hucker and Nick Pickering never really became household names. So, will we still know the likes of James Trafford, Anthony Gordon, Morgan Gibbs-White and Levi Colwill in 10 years’ time? On their impressive showing in the U21 Euros, we certainly hope so.