Post by Football News on Nov 15, 2016 22:27:49 GMT
Jamie Vardy leads the way but England held by second-string Spain
Home team scorers Adam Lallana 9 Pen Jamie Vardy 48
Away team scorers Iago Aspas 89 Alarcon Isco 90 +4:59
The clock at either end of Wembley was showing 94 minutes and 55 seconds when Isco scored the goal that stunned the Wembley crowd and reminded Gareth Southgate that if, as everyone expects, he is to become the England manager, this is anything but a straightforward assignment.
What a way for England to finish their last game of 2016 and what a meltdown bearing in mind that with two minutes of play remaining, Adam Lallana’s penalty and Jamie Vardy’s header had left the firm impression of a team who were in the process of shaking Euro 2016 out of their system. The paradox is this was probably the finest performance of Southgate’s brief stint in charge but Iago Aspas’s late goal changed everything and suddenly it seemed to dawn on Spain they were supposed to be the better team.
All the same, it was a remarkable finale that saw Isco burst into the penalty and turn the ball through the legs of Tom Heaton for the equaliser. For Southgate, it was a grievous blow. The manager-in-waiting should still be installed but he may have a better understanding about his team’s shortcomings. Even on the nights when they play above themselves, there is still the capacity for disappointment.
Before anyone gets too carried away, there was still the lingering suspicion that Spain were simply going through the motions and playing without the spine of their usual team. Their list of injured included, among others, Diego Costa, Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos. David de Gea had been given the night off and without Iniesta to keep everything ticking over, they conceded more possession than would usually be expected. Spain still had long periods of greedily hogging the ball but not in the same way as when this team are operating at their exhilarating best.
That still left England with the challenge of showing they knew how to pass the ball effectively and perhaps that was the most encouraging aspect for Southgate. England played with a level of authority that has not been evident in his previous three matches.
One little exchange of passes between Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard in the first half showed two players who wanted to prove they could thrive at this level. Shortly before, Sterling could be seen trying a trick, going one way then the other, to deceive Vitolo. England are a long way from the point where they should be showboating against a team of Spain’s refinement but it raised a cheer and if nothing else, it made a pleasant change for the crowd to see a little sprinkling of arrogance.
The downside is that Lallana was forced off midway through the first half after taking a bang to an ankle in a late challenge from Thiago Alcântara. Lallana has taken a long time to excel in England colours but he had started impressively and his through-ball in the buildup to the penalty incident was the outstanding moment of the match – and an exquisite reminder that there is nothing in football of greater beauty than the perfect pass.
Perhaps the best compliment is that it was the kind of exquisite pass that would ordinarily be expected from one of Spain’s soft-touch specialists. Not many players would have even seen it, let alone have the audacity to try it, and it was weighted perfectly to bend around Inigo Martínez and leave Vardy with the run at goal that led to José Reina bringing him down. Lallana finished the penalty to the left of Spain’s goalkeeper and from that point onwards England played without trepidation.
They also looked committed to the idea of making sure it was obvious they were taking the game seriously. Sometimes they seemed to forget entirely it was only a friendly. Vardy’s scything follow-through on César Azpilicueta was an early example and Sterling was also lucky not to be punished after his studs-up challenge on Aritz Aduriz. Inside the opening half an hour, Wembley had witnessed two challenges worse than anything that was seen in the England-Scotland fixture last Friday.
Spain played with greater restraint apart from the moment the substitute Aspas prodded one of the assistant referees, collecting a yellow card for his troubles. This was a subdued performance from England’s opponents, epitomised by the crowd going through several Mexican waves just after the hour-mark, as if they wanted to create their own entertainment.
Martínez had been caught napping for Vardy’s goal, not reacting at all as the striker threw himself at Jordan Henderson’s cross and until the thrilling conclusion, Spain scarcely threatened to save themselves throughout the remainder of the second half.
Heaton, a half-time replacement for Joe Hart, had only a couple of meaningful saves to make before Aspas cut in from the right and scored with a brilliantly taken shot, rising and curling towards the corner before finding its way into the net via the far post. It was a splendid goal and suddenly the entire complexion of the night changed.