HERNING, Denmark – Danny Welbeck scored a dramatic late equaliser to spare England a controversial but deserved defeat in their European Under-21 Championship opener against Spain.
Completely outplayed almost from the first whistle, Stuart Pearce's Young Lions fell behind to Ander Herrera's 14th-minute goal, which he netted with his hand from point-blank range.
But Welbeck popped up two minutes from time - looking narrowly offside - to slot home and snatch a priceless point in the Group B clash in Herning.
Pearce had betrayed his concern about tonight's game by trying to keep his team a closely-guarded secret and he certainly sprung a surprise by omitting both Jack Rodwell and Fabrice Muamba, with captain Michael Mancienne deployed in midfield.
But his tactical masterplan failed to prevent England's opponents dominating possession in a way in which has become the hallmark of Spanish sides.
Watching senior boss Fabio Capello would also have recognised the inadequacies of England's own ball-retention skills, which were exposed straight from kick-off when they immediately surrendered the ball and were made to get it back.
But the manner in which they fell behind was as surprising as it was controversial, considering their perceived superiority at set pieces.
Mancienne may have been blocked off as Spain captain Javi Martinez rose unchallenged to power a header goalward, which Herrera turned in from a yard out.
Television replays appeared to suggest a hand was involved but no England player had appealed the finish.
Spain continued to starve their opponents of possession, content to probe for openings, and two nearly arrived in quick succession when Thiago Alcantara sidestepped Mancienne and ballooned over before Chris Smalling cut out Juan Mata's ball to Adrian.
But England did end the first half on top, Danny Rose almost making the most of the minimum of ball when his wicked cross was just too far in front of Daniel Sturridge.
Then, in stoppage time, Sturridge fired a weak shot too close to David De Gea, who immediately proved why Manchester United want him as Edwin van der Sar's replacement when he tipped wide an unintentional flick from one of his own defenders from Kyle Walker's low cross.
England showed marginally more intent at the start of the second half but Spain soon settled back into their rhythm.
Herrera almost doubled their lead in the 58th minute when his drive took a wicked deflection off Smalling, bringing out an outstanding stop from Frankie Fielding.
Herrera then hesitated at the end of a fine Spain move, allowing Smalling and Phil Jones to throw their bodies in front of his finish.
With a quarter of the game remaining, Pearce had seen enough, withdrawing captain Mancienne and Rose for Rodwell and Henri Lansbury before Herrera earned a booking for a late challenge on Welbeck.
Spain were a little guilty of trying to walk the ball in when Martin Montoya fired into the sidenetting before they introduced Daniel Parejo for Adrian.
There were some party pieces for the 8,000 crowd to enjoy as England continued to chase shadows, although Sturridge was close to getting in behind the Spanish defence at one point.
Bojan replaced Jeffren for the final 10 minutes, while Scott Sinclair came on for the ineffective Cleverley.
Goalscorer Herrera was replaced by Diego Capel shortly after Mata shot too close to Fielding.
The game seemed to be drifting towards an inevitable conclusion until England equalised out of nothing two minutes from time.
Spain's defence went to sleep as their opponents committed more men forward than they had all game and Walker's ball found its way to Welbeck, who slotted home with ease as the flag stayed down.
Mata's finish deflected through to Fielding and Lansbury curled narrowly over in stoppage-time as both sides pushed for a winner.