England produced a confidence-boosting 1-0 win over FIFA World Cup™ winners Spain at Wembley this evening as stand-in captain Frank Lampard scored the only goal to provide Fabio Capello’s men with a hard-fought result.
While the test could hardly have been fiercer for the Italian manager’s men as they look to plan for Wayne Rooney’s absence from UEFA EURO 2012 following his three-match ban, a resolute performance from the home side, typified by man of the match Scott Parker, showed they have the grit to battle with the best. However, were it not for David Villa’s second-half volley striking the upright, and fluffing a number of other late chances, Spain would have got the draw they deserved.
In the end it was Lampard’s header shortly after half-time, having been first to react after Darren Bent struck the far post from James Milner’s free-kick, that settled a game which will leave English fans thoroughly buoyed, but conscious that they are not yet the complete outfit to tackle all next summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine will have to offer.
While the home faithful began the evening mulling over Capello’s sixth different centre-back pairing of the last 12 months, in Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott, the man of the hour was undoubtedly Iker Casillas, who equalled Spain’s all-time cap record today.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper moved level with legendary stopper Andoni Zubizarreta on 126 caps, having made his debut just two weeks after his nineteenth birthday against Sweden in 2000. The Scandinavians will visit Wembley on Tuesday, but the clash against the 2010 FIFA World Cup winners unsurprisingly dominated England’s build-up to the international break.
Jordi Alba made his way into the side for only his second appearance in a defence missing Barcelona captain Carles Puyol, because of mid-week Copa del Rey action, but David Silva made his third successive start after a storming opening to the season with Manchester City.
Lampard captained England in the absence of Chelsea team-mate John Terry, while Manchester United youngster Phil Jones continued to show his versatility on the international stage by forming a defensive midfield couplet with one of the Premier League’s top performers in Parker.
Spain’s neat passing began to gain traction after ten minutes, with Silva’s fine slipped through ball giving Villa their first sight of goal, but a solid block from Lescott saw England’s slack marking only punished with a corner-kick.
England try to find fluidity
While suffering at times from Spain’s high pressing game upon winning the ball in the early running, on the occasions England were able to wriggle free of the handful of opposing players, a couple of neat passes saw the width provided by Milner and Theo Walcott find themselves in an unfamiliar amount of space. However, poor final balls were their undoing in making the most of these early opportunities. On most occasions, though, options were at a premium.
The fluidity of the world champions’ midfield was a source of consistent ire for the home side, backed by a near-full house in fine voice, with the interchanging Silva, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, and marauding Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets leaving their opponents consistently swivelling on their heels.
Lampard played in a composed manner in his role at the head of a central midfield three, tackling whole-heartedly and reading the game well however, he reflected England’s frustrations and lack of headway going forward with a tame 30-yard drive, providing Casillas his first test. Spain immediately countered with a half chance of their own, Silva breaking into the area only for his shot to deflect kindly into the arms of Joe Hart off Lescott.
A similar story unfolded minutes later, Silva turning provider, as Iniesta’s strike was again turned away by the Manchester City defender. From the resulting corner Busquets ghosted into the area as England pushed forward, but the midfielder could only turn his volleyed effort over from eight yards out.
The home side occasionally found joy when running at Alba, with the pace of Walcott and Glen Johnson proving a menace, but the first half ultimately petered out with neither side having wholly found their rhythm. The EURO 2008 winners looked to inject a fresh set of legs into their midfield as they brought in Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata for Xavi and Silva at the break, while Stewart Downing entered in place of Walcott.
As the second half began, Villa looked to force the visitors into an immediate lead, but his 20-yard strike flew over inside a minute of the restart. However, it was the home side who made the breakthrough moments later. Milner’s whipped free-kick from the left wing being met by Bent, and with substitute goalkeeper Pepe Reina left stranded by the ball ricocheting off the post, Lampard tapped in.
Spain start to up the pressure
Spain began to turn the screw from then on, coming close when Villa broke free of the England back-line and rounded Hart, only for his off-balance shot to strike the side netting. Immediately the home side switched to a more defensive outfit, as Lampard made way for Gareth Barry, and youthful exuberance of Jones was replaced by another much-heralded youngster in Jack Rodwell, making his debut.
Having made the first goal, Bent was next to make for the bench, being replaced by Danny Welbeck, while Spain looked to boost their forward line with the introduction of Fernando Torres – keen to prove to an English audience he hasn’t lost his prowess in front of goal – in place of Busquets. It was the home side's substitutes who were first to make an impression, as Welbeck and Rodwell played three quick passes to see them baring down on Reina’s goal, but Sergio Ramos was able to get across, using his experience to draw a foul and slam the door on the precocious pair.
Villa then showed his class as he was agonisingly close to drawing the Spaniards level, teeing himself up to strike a divine left-footed volley against the far upright with Hart left scrambling across his goal. The Barcelona forward looked to be finding his rhythm operating just off Torres, as a succession of flicks from Spain’s all-time top scorer tried to unlock the English defence, but to no avail.
The visitors continued to pick at an increasingly fraught-looking back-line, with Fabregas’ neat pull-back being narrowly nicked away from the toe of Gerard Pique, before the Barcelona midfielder shot narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area. The former Arsenal captain then produced two chances to grab a result in the closing minutes, first with his 18-yard shot producing the best moment of the game from Hart, reacting to a late deflection, before side-footing wide with the goal at his mercy from the penalty spot. As a result the home side remained steadfast and held out for victory.