England take on Spain

Robbie Gill

Fabio Capello missed his son’s wedding to be at Wembley, and although some predicted that England would get taught a brutal lesson in top level international football, the result was an encouraging 1-0 win. Whilst this was by no means a vintage performance from Spain, England can take heart form the fact that they had some key players missing, most notably, John Terry and Wayne Rooney.

 

In the opening exchanges England looked nervous, as was to be expected when facing the reigning World and European champions. They struggled to disrupt the rhythm of Spain, who looked typically comfortable in possession. On a few occasions early in the first half, after nabbing possession, England gifted Spain the ball back and for the most part struggled to get out of their own half.

 

But as the game progressed England began to settle into the game and actually produced the first shot of note. Stand-in captain Frank Lampard roamed forward from midfield and took on the shot from distance drawing a save from Iker Casillias. Although the midfield began to look more comfortable, the lack of movement and support for the man in possession often led to the ball being played sideways or backwards. On numerous occasions throughout the game England simply punted the ball long allowing Spain to build again from the back.

 

In stark contrast, whenever Spain found themselves on the periphery of the England area there was always someone peeling away from their marker, and the craft of the Spanish midfield means that there is always a danger of giving away a chance. Spain’s best chance of the half fell to Sergio Busquets courtesy of a raking cross field pass from the masterful Xabi Alonso. However the Barcelona man ballooned his shot over the bar. Contrary to the pre-match predictions England found themselves not only level at half time but had also managed to maintain a clean sheet.

 

The second half saw both managers make changes to their side. England replacing Theo Walcott with Stewart Downing. Whilst Spain withdrew Xavi, David Silva and Iker Casillias and replaced them with Fabregas, Jaun Mata and Pepe Reina, highlighting the gulf in the talent pool of the respective nations. Reina’s first touch of the ball was to pick it out of the net. James Milner floated a free kick into the Spain area and onto Darren Bent’s head. Bent headed it downwards and struck the post, Lampard reacted quickest and tapped the ball over the line to give England an unexpected lead.

 

This goal roused Spain, who began to dominate possession, although they failed to produce any guilt edged chances initially. England retreated ever deeper into their half in an attempt to preserve their precious advantage. They deployed some relatively hard tackling and refused to make it easy for their opponents. They defended well as a unit with stand in centre backs Lescott and Jagielka in particular turning in fantastic performances to blunt the Spanish attack.

 

At this point the game looked like it was going to fizzle out into nothing and England injected some much needed energy by introducing Danny Welbeck and giving a full debut to Jack Rodwell. The pair looked lively and linked up superbly to create a chance to extend their lead however some good defending from Alba snuffed it out. The performances of England’s young lions was a real plus, with Kyle Walker getting a brief run out and Phil Jones performing admirably in an unfamiliar midfield role. It is encouraging to see so many of the Under 21’s beginning to progress into the full national side, slowly replacing the so called ‘Golden Generation’ who have brought nothing but abject failure.

 

Spain pressed right to the final whistle with David Villa looking the most likely to make something happen. He hit both the side netting at the post in the closing moments of the game but a sturdy defensive display meant that England managed to hold out for one of their more encouraging results since the debacle in South Africa. Whilst this result is by no means a sign that England can now consider themselves one of the best sides in the world, there were some elements of promise that can be taken from this game. In particular a much needed boost to their confidence and the salvation of some much needed pride.

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