STERLING SINKS SPAIN IN SEVILLE THRILLER
England beat serious opposition competitively for the first time since David Beckham’s penalty saw off Argentina in 2002. Scintillating attacking football and dogged defending helped them end Spain’s two-year unbeaten run.
Tested before kick-off with suspensions to John Stones and Jordan Henderson, Gareth Southgate was forced to make changes. In came Joe Gomez and Harry Winks for just their second competitive caps. Ross Barkley and Ben Chilwell retained their places from Friday’s draw in Croatia. The team’s only other change was a replacement at right-back, where Kieran Trippier replaced Kyle Walker. Hosts Spain handed a surprise start to Wolves’ right-back Jonny Otto.
Under a totally contrasting atmosphere to eerie Rijeka on Friday, Spain kicked off to a raucous reception in Real Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarín. Spain were the fastest side out the blocks. Jonny, Thiago Alcántara and Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso were all denied by fearless England blocks. The Three Lions weathered the storm and, little did they know, there was to be a reward for that.
On fifteen minutes, a seventeen-pass move ended with a pungent counter-attack. A stunning Jordan Pickford long-pass landed right at the feet of the deep-sitting Harry Kane. England’s skipper took the ball down instantly and fed Marcus Rashford on England’s left-wing. Rashford saw Raheem Sterling sprinting up the other side of the pitch and found him with a lovely threaded pass. Raheem Sterling took one touch, before firing the ball past a motionless David de Gea and into the top corner. Shushing the crowd as he ran away to celebrate, the young midfielder could feel the weight of an elusive England goal being lifted completely from his shoulders. Having not hit the back of the net for his country in three years, Raheem Sterling, when he finally did it, did so by beating the world’s best goalkeeper… in the top corner.
As the match got back underway, it was clear Spain looked rattled. Misplaced passes and breakdowns in communication were costing the home side dearly, as England took control. On thirty-minutes, from a gathered shot by Thiago Alcántara, Jordan Pickford wasted no time in volleying high and far for Harry Kane. England’s main marksman did excellently as he got the better of Spain’s centre-backs to take the ball and hold it up well. As he twisted and turned to lose his marker, he spotted Marcus Rashford’s burst into the box, and met him with a wonderful pass. The Manchester United 20-year-old took the ball down well, before slotting a passed volley calmly beyond his club teammate de Gea. Rashford had made up for his shortcomings on Friday with a goal and an assist on half-an-hour.
Only minutes later, England were beneficiaries of Spain’s nerves again. Harry Kane saw Ross Barkley on the ball and waved an arm at him as he darted into a crowded box. Chelsea’s Barkley clipped a quite exquisite pass over Spain’s defence, where Kane slid in to stab across goal for Sterling. From close-range, Sterling finished off the kind of walked-it-in goal that he seems to score week in week out for his club. A third superbly well-worked England goal meant Spain had conceded three in a competitive home game for the first time in their history. Doing that had taken England just thirty-seven minutes.
Spain came out for the second period a changed side. More dynamic and purposeful on the ball, they came close with long-range efforts by Saúl Ñíguez and Marco Asensio in the early exchanges. On fifty-seven minutes, through a textbook corner, Spain ended England’s hopes of an ambitious clean-sheet. Reborn Borussia Dortmund striker Paco Alcácer nodded in a well-taken corner to give the Spaniards realistic hope for a comeback. Luis Enrique was energetic on the touchline as his side came right back into the tie.
The goal rattled England and five minutes later came about a moment of madness from The Three Lions. Jordan Pickford’s search for a pass took much too long, and his attempt at a Cruyff turn made things a whole lot harder. As Rodrigo nicked the ball away, the goal was gaping wide open for 2-3. However, Pickford pulled the striker back and slid in brilliantly. Spain’s players protested vehemently that Pickford had applied illegal force to Rodrigo, but the referee remained unmoved. No penalty was given. Things were getting nervy back there for England. Gareth Southgate’s side had to remain defensively excellent for the final half-hour, as Spain totally dominated proceedings.
Kyle Walker and Nathaniel Chalobah [for his senior debut] came on to sure up England’s defence, as the fourth official’s board read a mammoth seven minutes of added on time. With fifteen seconds of injury-time left, Dani Ceballos crossed for the charismatic Sergio Ramos. Displaying his aerial presence yet again, the Real Madrid talisman threw himself at the ball – which itself flew pas Jordan Pickford for 2-3. England had been pinned back and, despite a solid defensive display, had conceded another couple of poor goals against Spain. The referee cut Spain’s sprints back to their own half short with the full-time whistle. That confirmed a deserved and delicious result for the youngest senior England side since 1959.
On a perfect night, England ended Spain’s two-year unbeaten run and their competitive home unbeaten run – which dates back to defeat to Greece in 2003. The fact England’s front three walked away with three goals and three assists between them illustrates just how strong their interplay was. In a match already described as Germany 1-5 England: Part 2, The Three Lions earnt their first ever Nations League victory with an historic away win, 2-3 against Spain in Seville.