In recent times, England’s fortunes in international football have been remarkably constant. Winning against the national sides below them in terms of rankings and quality, and struggling to compete when up against teams above them. There is the odd anomaly, but take a look through their competitive results over the past 30, 40, 50 years and the findings are quite telling.
And so an evening in Seville, in wet and breezy conditions, offered the chance for England to change their record. The youngest England team selected in the 21st century went over and above the usual, beating a nation that realistically expects to win every match they play. Smashing aside an unbeaten home record that Spain have held for over 15 years, England were ruthless and clinical; scoring with their three shots on target.
The last time Spain lost a competitive home match was against Greece in June 2003, one year later Greece went on to win the European Championships. But this performance was much more impressive than that one goal win in Zaragoza. At times, it felt like Liverpool had turned up, such was the whirlwind-nature of England’s speedy attacks and incisive movement in forward areas.
England dictate terms through pace and power
By the end, the visitors had only managed 30 per cent of the possession but that was rather misleading. England dictated terms in their own way, for long enough there have been jibes and questions as to how England can impose themselves on a high-quality opponent, the answers were clear in the first-half here. England possess pace that few others can match.
David De Gea’s first-half duties involved picking the ball out of his net three times, that’s telling of England’s ruthlessness. Spain did not defend badly; they were flat-footed at times but by no means a pushover. Under Luis Enrique, Spain do propose a more direct approach than recent times, but England took it to another level in the first-half.
Fluid front-three combine superbly
There were two goals for Raheem Sterling, who had not scored in more than three years for his country, and another for Marcus Rashford and they had come in some of the most exhilarating counter-attacking this or any generation has served up. A mixture of route one and quick passes paved the way for England. Harry Kane – despite not finding the net himself –provided two assists and held the ball up very impressively.
The intelligent attacking and knowhow of when to press and when to sit deeper was rewarded with a first-half performance that could rival that of against Germany in Munich some 17 years ago.
That same intelligence was tested in a defensive sense in the second-half when England found out that there is no easy way to beat Spain. Despite conceding twice in the second 45 minutes, England showed solid defensive qualities, a togetherness and know-how that ultimately saw the victory over the line. Luck also played a telling part; the crossbar was struck, the side-netting was rippled and Jordan Pickford could have even given away a penalty when he fouled Rodrigo after attempting a piece of ‘goalkeeping penalty area trickery’.
Spain rattled but not lacking fight
The hosts did manage two goals, both well-taken headers, bookmarking a spell of serious Spanish pressure; they never gave up. Sergio Ramos was angry that there wasn’t enough time to restart after his 97th minute goal such was their fight, Paco Alcacer’s first touch of the match proved the kick-start that Spain needed in the second-half, but time was not on their side.
Coming into this match Alcacer – proving to be a wonderful summer signing for Borussia Dortmund – had scored in every 27 minutes of football that he’d played so far this season, all the more remarkable considering he is yet to start a game. And yet England gave him too much room to allow him to get on the scoresheet once again here.
There were positives to take for England, the magnitude of the win was apparent, but the performance – clinical, dynamic attacking and a relatively robust defence – only added to the achievement. Eric Dier’s sliding tackle on Ramos in the opening exchanges lit the affair from the off and there was no going back. It felt like an occasion, it sounded like one too.
But the final word should go to England’s third goal. A move featuring 17 passes, the ball moving from Rashford to Kane to Sterling and into the net. It contained confidence, technique and imagination. It was a goal, and ultimately, a performance to only build on the positives accumulated in Russia in the summer. It was a wonderful evening for England, whether it is simply an anomaly will be determined by this young bunch in the near future.