By William Wood | In UEFA European Under-21 Championship
England Under-21s secured their place in the European Championship semi-finals with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Spain Under-21s, and Micah reflected on the impressive achievement exclusively with MicahRichards.com.
Stuart Pearce’s side went into the game on the back of the 2-1 win over Finland Under-21s just days ago, three points that ensured they were in the driving seat within Group B.
And the Three Lions showed no early signs of nerves as in the previous fixture, though a slip by Keiron Gibbs forced Joe Hart off his line to make the clearance within minutes of the opening.
The opening exchanges were tight, and it almost took a bizarre own goal from Nedum Onouha to break the ice.
The Manchester City defender aimed a back-pass towards where he thought Hart was stood, inadvertently knocking the ball towards goal and thus prompting his club team-mate to scramble back and knock the ball from danger to spare Onouha’s blushes.
Spain were, however, struggling to create any openings by their own accord, with Barcelona wonderkid Bojan limited to pot-shots from outside the box, while at the other end James Milner was looking to pick out Micah from all set-pieces with little success.
The first clear-cut chance of the game came in the way of a penalty after 32 minutes, James Milner capitalising on a mistake in the Spanish backline and drawing the foul, but the Aston Villa midfielder’s spot-kick was wonderfully saved by Andres Sergio Asenjo.
Although Micah was unable to replicate the number of chances he was granted against Finland, he was using his aerial prowess effectively to stifle all of Spain’s attacks, and the first-half petered to a close with neither side exerting themselves.
The England fans had their hearts in their mouths just ten minutes after the interval as Hart rushed from his line only for Adrian Lopez to knock the ball across goal, but Micah was on hand to clear the danger, much to his City teammate’s relief.
Pearce called on Theo Walcott as he looked to ignite his side’s attacking play, though it was another substitute – Fraizer Campbell – who finally broke the deadlock with 67 minutes on the clock.
Another defensive error from Spain allowed the Manchester United youngster to collect the ball, turn his man and fire left-footed into the back of the net to put England in the driving seat.
With Spain looking to recompose themselves, the lead was doubled just six minutes later as Walcott demonstrated his pace down the left before laying the ball off to Milner, and the former Leeds United man made amends for his earlier penalty miss by smashing the ball home to make it 2-0.
While Spain toiled in the search of a lifeline, Pearce’s side stood their ground to secure their place in the semi-finals and send them into the final qualifying round against arch-rivals Germany safe in the knowledge that their progress has been secured.
“It was a great performance from all of the lads,” Micah said. “We came here with a job to do and I think we did it well.
“I wouldn’t say it was more comfortable then expected as they are a really good team and they have a lot of good players, but we just seemed to want it more.”
With Onouha back in the fold following his recovery form injury, Micah was delighted to link-up with his City compatriot in the heart of the England defence.
“Me and ‘Chief’ have a really good understanding,” Micah continued. “I came through the academy with him so we do have a strong understanding, he is a great player and I really enjoy playing alongside him.”
Despite the solid victory over a team tipped to be in the mix for the competition, Micah remained cautious of England’s chances given the quality of the other sides remaining.
“After the first round of games in the other group Sweden look very strong, but Italy have a lot of good players in their squad and will be a threat,” Micah concluded.
“We also play Germany next and they’re a quality side, so we’ll not be writing them off either.”