England Report v Spain (a)
Estadio Jose Rico Perez, Alicante
The England run is over as Spain, at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez in Alicante, proved we've still got some way to go if we really are to 'mix it up' with the big boys in France as they cruised, if we're completely honest, to a comfortable 2-0 win on Friday.
Spain, as expected to be the case, dominated possession in the opening half an hour or so, and mainly throughout really with 'little' in my opinion learned, well bar the fact - without sounding too negative - the achievements in qualification proved just how 'poor' that group was to be honest, right?
With England struggling to get any kind of foothold in the game with the retention of the ball, on the whole, poor when England had it as this was wasted or given away too cheaply and that allowed the Spanish to keep pushing us back and building up play.
For this possession chances weren't really coming with a Pique deflected effort wide the first chance with the best one then seeing Busquets drive and effort in that only needed a touch, be that from an England defender or the lurking Bartra - fortunately neither happened!
A first positive move, when Carrick - who didn't, like most to be fair, do much else - won ball saw Sterling, who was another fairly anonymous option but in his defence he did look to run with the ball but didn't do much with it! On this occasion he did run with it before this went out to Bertrand, who didn't doo too badly, who put a good ball across the area but there wasn't a touch from an England player but easily the best move from the Three Lions up to that point.
Sterling got away again soon after as England looked to get another move going but again his cross was cut out with Costa threatening to breakthrough, he took his time, took aim but his curled effort went wide as he looked to mark a rare Spanish start with a goal.
Barkley, such a quality player, showed this again as he turned with the ball in his own half before driving forward - he kept going and going before, without any other real options, having a go himself that he dragged wide. Other than that though he too struggled to get into the game, and if being harsh, didn't step up to the plate, but he WILL!
A more promising 5-minutes again saw England better when retaining the ball, down the left again Bertrand put a ball in that eventually found a way to Lallana, I think it was, or perhaps Kane but the effort was straight at Casillas who wasn't troubled, again it was better from England though.
Once more it was 'straight at' Casillas but once again as half time approached it was an England effort that actually 'worked the goalie' as Delph broke forward and had a pop, this came back off Casillas and would have left someone with a simple tap in if it had been followed up...Kane then had the best chance of all but he couldn't hit the target, taking a touch when he needed to hit it first time and this was skewed wide.
If England were to win this game they NEEDED to keep the ball better in the 2nd half.
Not too much was happened, from either side after the break, with the hour bringing the first England changes as Delph, who earlier in the half looked to be feeling his hamstring once more, went off along with Lallana with Spurs pair Alli and Dier coming on, the latter for his senior debut.
After these changes Spain put their foot on the gas again with some pressure exerted.
Alba forced Hart into a save at his hear post with a wicked ball defended well before a flicked effort from Alcácer, I think it was, going over with Kane then threatening too, selling a dummy to work an opening that curled away from Casillas' goal and into the side netting.
If Spain scored it would be a 'long way back' for England and sure enough they broke through on 70-minutes, 1-0 Spain with a fantastic goal from Pérez Martínez, aka 'Mario' who was certainly Super Mario with an awesome strike that no goalie, Hart or otherwise would save with the right back marking his 2nd cap with as many goals!
A Platt-esque like finish from the 1990 World Cup for England against Belgium, but this was probably even better.
The captain, after the first goal of the season was conceded, was called with Rooney on for Barkley immediately after the goal.
Hart was called on as the 'sweeper' when Spain got through again, doing enough to get a tackle in on Mata who looked to be clean through, which if he did get to and bring it under control you suspect he would have either gone round Hart or slid it past him, either way it would have been two-nil?
England needed to push on a little more, and did but the threat wasn't really looking there with Hart saving again, keeping out a Pedro effort from distance before the second did come soon after as Cazorla literally 'passed it into the net' with a world class finish to make it 2-0 Spain as he give Hart, who wasn't happy thinking it was offside - after a poor clearance - and that earned him a yellow card, no chance.
The better team won without a doubt, with the 15-match unbeaten run ended and ending on a sour note with Carrick forced off on a stretched with Rooney then hitting an effort into the ground and onto the bar.
A final word almost went England's way with Kane forcing a save from Casillas but Alli couldn't control the follow up to give himself a chance of getting a shot away as the game ended with Spain winning 2-0 and perhaps giving the Three Lions something to think about going forward.
It certainly left more questions than answers as we didn't really learn anything from this did we?
Smalling isn't someone I've always rated but in fairness he played well in central defence and could become a permanent fixture with Bertrand doing his chances at left back, at least being in the squad no harm with a positive performance - we needed more to be 'positive' and step up to show something but too few did...
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