SILKY SPAIN EASE PAST ENGLAND
England’s sixteen-match unbeaten run ended as Spain took full advantage of Roy Hodgson’s heavily weakened squad. The Three Lions held out for seventy-minutes, but were eventually opened up and the home side prevailed 2-0 in Alicante.
Spain began the night missing only three regulars [Juanfran, David Silva and Sergio Ramos], but Roy Hodgson had to deal with the absence of fifteen potential first-team players. This was only made worse as it became clear on Wednesday that Jamie Vardy, one of only three strikers in the squad, had picked up a knock in Leicester City’s win over Watford. Therefore Harry Kane started as the lone forward, and Rooney did not start. Joe Hart captained England from the start of a match for he first time, and Manchester United duo Phil Jones and Chris Smalling made up the centre-back pair. Ross Barkley was handed the coveted central role, as Fabian Delph and Michael Carrick paired up in defensive-midfield for the first time.
Spain kicked off in the José Rico Perez Stadium, home of third division side Hércules CF. It was England who got the first chance of the game, as Ross Barkley found Raheem Sterling on the left-wing. But the Manchester City midfielder cut and side and shot wildly over the bar. The strike epitomised the nervy start to the match which England had endured. Next came somewhat of a rare collectable, as Andrés Iniesta played a loose pass, which found its way into the path of Everton’s Barkley. But his skewed strike was of similarly poor quality, as it spun aimlessly wide. As England won and then lost the ball, Gerard Piqué tried a shot from outside the area. Michael Carrick came sliding in to block the shot, but this only diverted the ball closer to the goal. As Joe Hart watched on helplessly, The ball bounced wide. Spain began to dominate with their trademark slick, controlled passing, with England making simple errors across the pitch. As Diego Costa earned his side a corner from some questionable England defending, the next chance came about. The ball was originally headed clear by Smalling, but fell kindly for Sergio Busquets. The midfielder’s downward volley needed the faintest of touches from Barcelona teammate Marc Bartra, but he muddled his feet up and the ball sailed an inch or two wide of Joe Hart’s post. As The Manchester City keeper found Kyle Walker with a clearance later on, the Tottenham right-back could only head the ball straight into Iniesta’s path. The midfielder found in-form forward Paco Alcácer with a through-ball, but the finish from Alcácer bobbled harmlessly wide. As England kept playing aimless crosses into the box, Spain kept their rhythm up with their fast passing. Cesc Fàbregas found Chelsea teammate Diego Costa in space, but the forward leant back just a bit too much and his whipped strike curled just wide.
England got the next chance. After the Spanish had lost possession, Ross Barkley skilfully turned Busquets, before continuing his drive forward. Without assessing his options either side, Barkley shot himself. But the strike was of the same lack of quality as his earlier effort, as it skidded wide to Iker Casillas’s right. As England piled on the pressure, A Lallana shot deflected to the marked Harry Kane. But the forward was facing away from goal and his tame shot was easily gathered by Casillas. Thiago Alcântara limped off the pitch with an injury, and was replace by Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla. But Cazorla was caught in possession and Fabian Delph’s strike was a meaty one, although Casillas did stop it. England were improving as the half went on, and Some lovely interchanging passing inside Spain’s box left Kane with no option but to shot. Off balance, his scuffed effort trickled wide. At half-time, 0-0 was a fair score-line.
In second half, both Bartra and Costa had half-chances before Joe Hart was forced to punch clear substitute Nolito’s goal-bound cross. Minutes later, Nolito controlled from a long ball, before setting Jordi Alba free in behind with a cute back-heel. The full-back powered in a tight angled strike, which Hart parried behind for a corner. As England fell asleep momentarily, Fabregas crossed for Bartra, who turned a shot smartly, but his clipped strike dropped onto the roof of the net. Spain gave the ball away again, and Kane profited, firing in a fierce strike from range which flew just wide of the high-flying Casillas’ post. The breakthrough came on seventy-two minutes. As Raheem Sterling gave the ball away, Fàbregas carried it forward. The advanced right-back Mario Gaspar received the ball with his back to go from the Chelsea midfielder. From the edge of the box, Mario swivelled and unleashed an unstoppable dipping overhead kick. Joe Hart had absolutely no chance with the shot, and Spain, thanks to Mario Gaspar’s second goal in as many games for his country, led deservedly in Alicante.
The vision of the top Spanish midfielders is amongst the best in the world, and Fàbregas saw substitute Juan Mata’s run perfectly with a fabulous long pass. The Manchester United midfielder went one-on-one with Joe Hart. But the goalkeeper came out speedily, and tackled the Spaniard brilliantly. Delle Alli, Wayne Rooney and debutant Eric Dier came one The Three Lions, and as Dier found Kane, the forward lost his balance and sliced his volley wide of the target. Pedro then had a chance for Spain, but the original effort and the follow-up were both stopped by Hart. The England captain was soon to pay for a weak clearance, as Fàbregas found Nolito with a cute [later adjudged to be offside] pass. The Celta Vigo man then found Cazorla who practically passed a world-class whipped shot into the bottom corner. England flew over to confront the linesman, but Spain were 2-0 up. Later, as Rooney found Walker on the right wing, the Manchester United captain continued his run into the box. Walker’s cross was met by Rooney, but his volley was struck into the ground. The ball bounced up and clipped the crossbar before rising on over the crossbar of helpless Casillas. As England ramped up the pressure in stoppage-time, Kane’s effort was parried back out right into the path of Alli. The teenager tried to control the ball with his stomach, but it wouldn’t run for his and ran tamely off the pitch. The whistle blew, and England had lost to the European Champions.