England 1:1 Spain Herrera 14', Welbeck 87'
Herning, Denmark, Att: 8,046
Manchester United's Daniel Welbeck rescued English blushes with a barely-deserved equaliser three minutes from time against Spain in Herning.
The top two teams in the tournament, from the largest football nations, now head into their second games trailing the Czech Republic by two points.
A poacher's goal in the 18th minute by Real Zaragoza's Ander Herrera was all that separated the teams on paper before Welbeck unexpectedly slotted home, but the scoreline belied the gulf between English and Spanish football recently illuminated by the UEFA Champions League Final.
Less than a month ago, the respective top club teams had crossed swords, with Barcelona showing Man Utd a clean pair of heels, sparking the most serious debate yet about the English playing style.
Within the opening minutes it was clear that old habits die hard. England chased and tackled hard on the back foot, while Jordan Henderson launched missiles forward towards the muscular duo of the two Daniels - Sturridge and Welbeck. Brawn but little brain.
Spain, anchored by 2010 World Cup veteran Javi Martinez and untroubled by the English air-raid, pressed en masse and tried to weave their way upfield via their nimble No.19 Thiago Alcantara - more clash of the styles than clash of the titans.
In the 14th minute their influential duo combined to nab the lead from a speedy set-piece. Thiago's whipped corner was nodded on by Martinez and Real Zaragoza midfielder Ander Herrera raced in to head home at the far post.
Buoyed by their breakthrough, the Spanish then marinated possession, leaving England to rely on right-sided thrusts from Tottenham's Kyle Walker for inspiration.
England almost got even five minutes from the interval Sturridge failed to connect with a thumped-in cross from Danny Rose but while the Chelsea forward looked more dangerous as the half was ending, his teammates still relied on hopeful launches from afar.
With their stentorian coach Luis Milla yelling them on from the touchline, Spain entered the dressing-rooms at half-time confident of victory, while England expected a dressing-down from Pearce and talk of a Plan B.
After a spell of English huffing and puffing following the restart, it was Spain almost doubled their lead in the 58th when Herrera the goalscorer found space on the edge of the box and got a shot off, deflected by Phil Jones but clawed away by the agile Frank Fielding between the sticks.
Pearce had seen enough and made two changes in the 67th, pulling off Rose and skipper Michael Mancienne and replacing them with Arsenal's Henri Lansbury and the Premier League experience of Everton's Jack Rodwell, a veteran of 2009.
Meanwhile, Spain were still in control of the battle, laying comfortably at anchor in the knowledge the English cannons were off-kilter. Right-back Martin Montoya fired into the side-netting twenty minutes from time to finish off a lovely move, but otherwise the Iberians were content to contain.
Ten minutes to go and the biggest cheer of the night erupted as Barcelona's Bojan Krkic took the field, while Pearce played his last card by throwing on Scott Sinclair in place of Tom Cleverley.
Finally the gods smiled on England as the Spanish defence were caught napping by Walker's incursion three minutes from time. The Spurs man found Welbeck with space in the box and a neat turn allowed him time to pick his spot past De Gea and slot home.
England's players cheered their travelling support at the final whistle relieved at their good fortune, while Spain trudged off annoyed they had failed to make their superiority count - their centre-back pairing of Botia and Alvaro Dominguez arguing over who was to blame for the equaliser.
Honours shared, the two go into their second games on Wednesday against the Czech Republic and Ukraine seeking more.
ENGLAND (4-2-3-1) - Frank Fielding, Michael Mancienne (sub Henri Lansbury 67'), Ryan Bertrand, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson, Daniel Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Kyle Walker, Thomas Cleverley (sub Scott Sinclair 81'), Danny Rose (sub Jack Rodwell 67')
Coach: Stuart Pearce
SPAIN (4-1-2-2-1) - David de Gea, Alvaro Dominguez, Javi Martinez, Jeffren (sub Bojan Krkic 80'), Adrian (Daniel Parejo 72'), Juan Mata, Martin Montoya, Didac Vila Rosello, Ander Herrera (Diego Capel 86'), Thiago Alcantara, Alberto Botia
Coach: Luis Milla
EURO U21 2011 so far
Belarus 2:0 Iceland
Denmark 0:1 Switzerland
Czech Republic 2:1 Ukraine
England 1:1 Spain
Tue 14/06/11 - All times CET
Switzerland v Iceland (Aalborg 18:00)
Denmark v Belarus (Aarhus 20:45)
Wed 15/06/11 -
Czech Republic v Spain (Viborg 18:00)
England v Ukraine (Herning 20:45)
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile