Spain 2-0 England

Mario Gaspar’s wonder-goal and Santi Cazorla’s calm finish see Roy Hodgson’s men beaten in Alicante

  • England dominated in first half, but go into half time level after low-key first 45 minutes
  • Villarreal right back Mario Gaspar puts hosts ahead with magnificent acrobatic volley over Joe Hart 
  • Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla adds a second six minutes from time to  
  • England rarely look like scoring, as Roy Hodgson sets up team to frustrate European champions

What was it Pink Floyd sang? Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way. This would appear to be the tactical gameplan for Euro 2016, too.

Limited in ambition, limited in execution, England lost in Alicante, but football won. Sorry, but there is more to the game than this. There is hope and beauty and technique, and Spain took all the plaudits that mattered at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez, including the one that matters most: the victory.

That the goal which as good as decided the game was one of the most exquisite of the season only underlined the difference in these teams. While England tried to smother the match, or steal it, Spain claimed the win with a move that reached for the stars.

Joe Hart is left clutching at thin air as Mario Gaspar's superb volley flies over the England goalkeeper to put Spain ahead in Alicante

Joe Hart is left clutching at thin air as Mario Gaspar’s superb volley flies over the England goalkeeper to put Spain ahead in Alicante

The Villarreal right back celebrates his magnificent volley, which caught England completely by surprise 

The Villarreal right back celebrates his magnificent volley, which caught England completely by surprise

The defender is congratulated by his team-mates, with Marc Bartra (centre, No 4) looking suitably impressed by the full-back's effort

The defender is congratulated by his team-mates, with Marc Bartra (centre, No 4) looking suitably impressed by the full-back’s effort

Cazorla wheels away after stroking the ball home from the edge of the box to make it 2-0 six minutes from the end

Cazorla wheels away after stroking the ball home from the edge of the box to make it 2-0 six minutes from the end

Hart can only watch Cazorla's precise finish go past him, clipping the inside of the post on its way into the back of the net

Hart can only watch Cazorla’s precise finish go past him, clipping the inside of the post on its way into the back of the net

Hart protested the second goal - for which he was booked - as Cazorla and Juan Mata celebrate the former doubling Spain's lead

Hart protested the second goal – for which he was booked – as Cazorla and Juan Mata celebrate the former doubling Spain’s lead

Spain: Casillas 6.5, Mario 7, Pique 7, Bartra 6.5 (Azpilicueta 82 mins), Jordi Alba 7, Busquets 7 (Koke 78, 6), Thiago 6 (Cazorla 27, 7), Iniesta 7.5 (Nolito 46, 6.5), Fabregas 8, Costa 6 (Mata 64, 6), Alcacer 6.5 (Pedro 74, 6)

Subs not used: De Gea, Morata, Nacho, De Marcos, San Jose, Sergio Rico

Goal: Mario 73, Cazorla 84

England: Hart 7.5, Walker 5.5, Jones 6.5, Smalling 6 (Cahill 85, 6), Bertrand 7, Delph 5.5 (Alli 63, 6.5), Carrick 5 (Shelvey 90), Lallana 6 (Dier 63, 6), Barkley 6 (Rooney 73, 7), Sterling 6.5, Kane 6

Subs not used: Butland, Clyne, Stones, Gibbs, Heaton

Booked: Hart

Referee: Paolo Mazzoleni (Italy) 6

Ratings by Rob Draper

There was nothing like it from England, either in execution or intent. When Raheem Sterling lost possession, Spain moved the ball through the ranks swiftly and accurately – a prerequisite of any successful counter-attacking strategy – until Cesc Fabregas chipped it in, with a sweetness missing from his Chelsea displays this season.

Then the action turned Technicolor. Mario Gaspar, a right-back by trade at Villareal, finished with a quite wonderful bicycle kick from roughly 18 yards, bringing back memories of David Platt at the 1990 World Cup, in the days when England tried to play the best in the world as equals.

Joe Hart clutched at air, but was given no chance. England’s centre-halves cursed their luck. They didn’t deserve this, but the management did.

England came with such limited aspirations, such meanness of spirit considering it was a non-competitive fixture, that it could be argued Spain’s win was the best thing that could happen.

Wake up. England are doomed if they try to play on the counter attack for 90 minutes in France next year. A good team will get through, eventually, because England are not built as robustly as the best of Jose Mourinho’s teams.

England’s defence did their absolute best – even if Kyle Walker got tied in knots by Nolito three times in one move – but it still wasn’t enough.

If England play this way next summer their progress will be as limited as their football. They will beat everyone they expect to beat, and lose to the first good team they play.

To his credit, Chris Smalling was absolutely outstanding. So too his partner, Phil Jones, until near the end when he failed to deal with a sliced Hart clearance for the second goal.

The ball spun up in the air, Jones lost out, Santi Cazorla picked up the spare and, after Hart parried is first shot, he made no mistake from the rebound.

Hart complained bitterly to the match officials but, about what, it was hard to fathom. Maybe he was a bit embarrassed. Yes, it was his error, but the end result wasn’t his fault. England came here with the attitude of inferiors, so it is no surprise they returned home in that role.

England midfielder Ross Barkley looks to skip between Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba as England enjoy some rare possession

England midfielder Ross Barkley looks to skip between Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba as England enjoy some rare possession

Tottenham forward Harry Kane holds off a challenge from Marc Bartra as he looks to keep the ball in an attacking area for England

Tottenham forward Harry Kane holds off a challenge from Marc Bartra as he looks to keep the ball in an attacking area for England

Raheem Sterling provides the threat down the left hand side, but cannot keep the ball in play under pressure from Gerard Pique

Raheem Sterling provides the threat down the left hand side, but cannot keep the ball in play under pressure from Gerard Pique

England and Spurs right back Kyle Walker skips away from Costa as he looks to get an attack going from the back

England and Spurs right back Kyle Walker skips away from Costa as he looks to get an attack going from the back

It was a depressing, dispiriting evening from an English perspective, particularly the first half hour. The paucity of ambition and conservatism that seemed to come straight from the top were all horribly familiar.

Roy Hodgson’s comments prior to the game should have served as a warning. ‘The challenge is to be well organised to limit Spain’s attacking opportunities,’ he said. ‘We won’t be able to stifle them altogether because they are so good – but we hope to counter attack when we get the ball.’

Limit. Stifle. It is hard to believe this is an England team with a perfect record from its European Championship qualifying campaign, and undefeated since being beaten by Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup.

England should have their tails up, really – they have some tidy young players and should feel confident about that. Instead they came to Alicante talking only of counter-attacks. The expectation was that Spain would have all the possession and England could somehow nick it. And that was how the game shaped up initially.

At one stage Spanish control was running at 80 per cent. Yet England aren’t Andorra. They shouldn’t be so utterly overwhelmed – particularly not with a five-man midfield.

Fabian Delph has had 20 minutes of football this season and played like it, giving the ball away poorly on the rare occasions when he could get in the game. Michael Carrick was pinned back against the defensive line, as has happened to him before against top quality Spanish opposition, while Ross Barkley seemed to be under the impression he was guarding Spain’s defensive shield Sergio Busquets, rather than the other way around.

Barkley's powerful running offered some threat from in behind Kane, but he shot wide from range twice in the first half

Barkley’s powerful running offered some threat from in behind Kane, but he shot wide from range twice in the first half

Diego Costa, who has been out of form for Chelsea but kept his place in the Spain starting line-up, holds off Phil Jones' challenge

Diego Costa, who has been out of form for Chelsea but kept his place in the Spain starting line-up, holds off Phil Jones’ challenge

Fabian Delph skips over the outstretched leg of Bayern Munich midfielder Thaigo Alcantara, who was replaced inside the first 30 minutes

Fabian Delph skips over the outstretched leg of Bayern Munich midfielder Thaigo Alcantara, who was replaced inside the first 30 minutes

Barkley turns away from Marc Batra and his Barcelona team-mate Iniesta as England grew into the game against the European champions

Barkley turns away from Marc Batra and his Barcelona team-mate Iniesta as England grew into the game against the European champions

England manager Roy Hodgson issues some instructions to Adam Lallana as England struggled to keep hold of the ball in Alicante

England manager Roy Hodgson issues some instructions to Adam Lallana as England struggled to keep hold of the ball in Alicante

Barcelona defender Pique was booed by some sections of his own support throughout the game, but did not seem to react to the jeers

Barcelona defender Pique was booed by some sections of his own support throughout the game, but did not seem to react to the jeers

As for England’s centre-halves, the deal seems to be that they defend like lions in order to provide the platform for a counter attack using the pace of Sterling.

Soak it up, hit on the break. That is Hodgson’s grand plan, if this was the blueprint. Sorry if you were hoping for more; apologies if you believed the speeches about a young, vibrant England team, brimming with confidence and ready to take on the world.

This reminded of little more than the 0-0 draw with Italy at the European Championships in 2012, when England’s favourite pass was from Hart to Andy Carroll. England didn’t go long on this occasion, but they played as if inferior to Spain.

It was the last century that England last won here and that is what it looked like. There are years of development between these teams – not just in age but in the way they see the game, how it is played and what they look to get out of it.

Kane, who had England's best chances but failed to take them, reacts after firing wide of Iker Casillas' goal

Kane, who had England’s best chances but failed to take them, reacts after firing wide of Iker Casillas’ goal

Kane's shot from inside the penalty area deflects off Pique's leg and was easily saved by the Porto keeper Casillas

Kane’s shot from inside the penalty area deflects off Pique’s leg and was easily saved by the Porto keeper Casillas

Kane battled hard but with his team-mates so often a long distance away the Spurs fan found his opportunities limited 

Kane battled hard but with his team-mates so often a long distance away the Spurs fan found his opportunities limited

Spain striker Paco Alcacer vies for the ball with England's left back Ryan Bertrand, as Hodgson's men denied their opponents chances

Spain striker Paco Alcacer vies for the ball with England’s left back Ryan Bertrand, as Hodgson’s men denied their opponents chances

Despite their dominance of possession the Spanish side rarely tested Joe Hart in the England goal before Mario's wonder-strike

Despite their dominance of possession the Spanish side rarely tested Joe Hart in the England goal before Mario’s wonder-strike

If Spain did not take advantage of their superiority until late in the second-half it was only because this was a friendly on the Costa Blanca, with all that implies. Balmy evening, a gentle run-out, a crowd heavy with local families.

Spain saw a lot of the ball early but it was not until Gerard Pique had a shot deflected off Carrick in the 17th minute that they threatened Hart’s goal. From a corner soon after Busquets tried his luck from 18 yards but Marc Bartra couldn’t quite get there.

The best pass of the match, unsurprisingly, from a Spanish boot – Andres Iniesta clipping a quite superb through ball into the path of Paco Alcacer, but the Valencia man struck his low shot just wide. Iniesta was removed at half-time, or Spain could have made their superiority count sooner. As it was, Hart made a super save in the 66th minute.

England had the odd chance, as happens when one team is pushing forward the whole time, but Harry Kane had a frustrating night, existing on meagre rations.

He forced a brilliant stop from Iker Casillas in the last minute – he now has 100 clean sheets for Spain, an incredible record – and Wayne Rooney hit the bar at two down more by luck than judgement, having buried a shot into the turf and watched it bounce up. It would be a rose-tinted appraisal, however, to claim England deserved anything from this game.

‘A shame we had to play on a third division pitch,’ said Hart, although if anything that should have brought Spain down to England’s level. Not a hint of it. And if England intend playing Europe’s aristocracy in the manner of lower league hopefuls, they are hardly in a position to complain about the surface.

Roy Hodgson, who admitted before the game that his team would be set up to stifle Spain, checks his watch during the game

Roy Hodgson, who admitted before the game that his team would be set up to stifle Spain, checks his watch during the game

 Bertrand ensures there is no way through for Valencia striker Alcacer as Chris Smalling watches his team-mate challenge for the ball

 Bertrand ensures there is no way through for Valencia striker Alcacer as Chris Smalling watches his team-mate challenge for the ball

Delph lets fly from range, but England's midfield spent most of the game chasing Spanish shadows in Alicante

Delph lets fly from range, but England’s midfield spent most of the game chasing Spanish shadows in Alicante

Michael Carrick spent much of the game pinned back between his two central defenders as England struggled to gain a foothold

Michael Carrick spent much of the game pinned back between his two central defenders as England struggled to gain a foothold

England captain Wayne Rooney was left on the bench, with Kane preferred to the Manchester United striker up front for the friendly

England captain Wayne Rooney was left on the bench, with Kane preferred to the Manchester United striker up front for the friendly

The Manchester United captain came on for Ross Barkley after England had fallen behind, but was unable to help spark a recovery

The Manchester United captain came on for Ross Barkley after England had fallen behind, but was unable to help spark a recovery

Hart gets out to prevent Juan Mata extending Spain's lead, but the Manchester City keeper could do nothing about either goal

Hart gets out to prevent Juan Mata extending Spain’s lead, but the Manchester City keeper could do nothing about either goal

England's bad night was made even worse when Carrick was taken off on a stretcher in the closing stages 

England’s bad night was made even worse when Carrick was taken off on a stretcher in the closing stages

 

 

 

 

Source: Daily Mail

 

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