Rodrigo consigns England to defeat by Spain in first post-World Cup match
The Observer Nations League Rodrigo consigns England to defeat by Spain in first post-World Cup match â¢ England 1-2 Spain
â¢ Rashford 11; SaÃºl 13, Rodrigo 32
If nothing else, Englandâs footballers were spared the kind of treatment they might have anticipated in more mutinous times. In the warm afterglow of the summerâs World Cup, this was no time for rancour and recriminations and it was a sympathetic reaction at the final whistle. No matter that England had lost their first competitive fixture at Wembley since the now-infamous ordeal against Croatia in the Euro 2008 qualifying stages, or that this is the first time they have been beaten in three successive matches for even longer â" Euro 88, to be precise.
Equally, Gareth Southgate must know the feelgood factor will dissipate quickly if his team continue to find the European Nations League so problematic. Once again, we were reminded of their difficulties when it comes to overcoming the elite nations. It was hardly the kind of homecoming that Southgate must have wanted and the fact England led early on, courtesy of Marcus Rashfordâs goal, will merely increase the managerâs frustrations.England 1-2 Spain player ratings: Nations League winners and losers Read more
Not that Southgate, with so much goodwill stored up, should expect too much in the way of criticism, particularly when it could conceivably have been a more productive night but for a disallowed goal, seven minutes into stoppage time, and David de Gea demonstrating why Spain have continued to trust him after his accident-prone World Cup. England gave everything during the final exchanges to conjure up an equaliser and Southgate was entitled to think Danny Welbeck, one of his substitutes, did little wrong in the gameâs late controversy. The Dutch referee, Danny Makkelie, disagreed and, with half a dozen England players celebrating near the corner flag, a free-kick was given for an alleged push on De Gea.
Southgate was convinced it was a legitimate goal, making his displeasure known to the referee after the final whistle, and a disappointing evening for England also featured some genuine anxiety early in the second half when Luke Shaw was knocked unconscious in an accidental collision with Dani Carvajal. The encouraging news was that Shaw, making his first England start for three years, was sitting upright in the dressing room afterwards. But it was serious enough for him to be sent for an X-ray and his treatment on the pitch led to nine minutes of stoppage time, involving an onslaught of the Spanish goal and culminating in the crowd directing their annoyance towards the match officials rather than any of the players.
Fifty-nine days since England were playing in a World Cup semi-final, nobody should have been surprised by the shift in mood. It was difficult to remember the last time the national anthem was sung inside Wembley with such volume and, though there were sporadic outbreaks of booing, that was directed towards Sergio Ramos as a legacy of last seasonâs Champions League final. Ramos will presumably be comforted by the impressive start for Spain in the Luis Enrique era.
Spainâs reaction to finding themselves behind after 11 minutes was certainly impressive and, just because England could have salvaged a draw, it should not lessen Southgateâs concerns about his teamâs shortcomings in defence. England had plenty of players inside their own penalty area for SaÃºlâs equaliser and, again, when Rodrigo turned in a free-kick to give Spain the lead. Not enough of Southgateâs players anticipated the danger.
They also came up against a team with a new manager to impress and, as always, Spain s eemed intent on showing they were the experts when it came to the art of taking care of a football. Enrique is said to want a change in style, with a quicker tempo and more emphasis on pressing their opponents. On this evidence, the new methods might suit these players.
All the same, the outstanding move of the night was constructed by the players wearing England shirts and, without exaggeration, it is difficult to recall the last time this team put together such a brilliantly penetrative exchange of passes, classy in its creation and clinical in its execution.Harry Kane says Wembley referee âbottled itâ when England denied goal Read more
It culminated with Shaw playing the killer pass, taking out two Spanish defenders, for Rashford to score with a first-time finish inside the penalty area. But to appreciate this goal properly it would be necessary to go back to the fact it was Shawâs defensive header that began the breakaway. Jesse Lingardâs cl ever flick opened up play. Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane were involved and Shaw was already on the move as the attack switched seamlessly from right to left. The final pass from Shaw was weighted beautifully. Rashford had his fourth England goal and a fifth would have arrived later in the first half but for De Gea keeping out his club colleague with a wonderful piece of goalkeeping.
By that stage, however, it was England who were looking the more vulnerable in defence and, however impressive Shaw had been for the opening goal, it was also true he missed a challenge on Carvajal in the buildup to Spainâs equaliser just a couple of minutes later. Rodrigo accepted the ball from his teammate, headed towards the byline and turned it back for SaÃºl to beat Jordan Pickford from eight yards.
If anything, Southgate ought to be even more concerned about the way Rodrigo eluded two England players to score what turned out to be the winner from Thiagoâs free-kick delivery. Kan e was the first to let him go. John Stones did not react quickly enough and Southgateâs complaints might extend to the mistimed challenge with which Kieran Trippier gave away the free-kick. Time and again, Southgate has spoken to his players about the importance of not committing fouls in dangerous areas.
England can also reflect on the chance Rashford squandered in the 80th minute, running clear only to aim a hesitant shot towards De Gea, but Southgate made the point that even if his team had scrambled an equaliser they had to accept the superiority of their opponents. And, at the final whistle, it felt like a long time since England were toying with the idea of reaching a World Cup final.Topics
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