On the weekend of 11th and 12th November international football again come to the fore in the run up to Euro 2012 in Poland and the Ukraine. As well as the first legs of the Euro 2012 play-offs on Friday night, there were also a number of international friendlies played, the most notable of which saw current World and European Champions, Spain, travel to Wembley to take on Fabio Capello’s England.
The English press are notoriously harsh on the England team; large sections have their misgivings about Capello’s management of the squad so far, and his ability to get the best out of the players he has at his disposal. True to form, in the build-up to this game, not one member of the sports press gave England a snowball’s chance in hell of getting anything from the match, especially without Wayne Rooney in the side, dropped as a result of being suspended for the entire group stage next summer. Capello’s charges however, put in a strong, disciplined, professional performance that should silence their critics, at least for a moment.
There was no great shift of power, let us be clear about that. Spain started very brightly, popping the ball about neatly and crisply, as we’ve all come to expect; and on several occasions in the opening quarter of an hour, it looked as if England would be in for an extremely long night. As the half progressed though, England’s pressing tactics and disciplined defending began to frustrate the Spaniards. Whilst Spain dominated possession, they were limited to one clear, first half chance-Busquets putting the ball well over the bar from Xavi Alonso’s pass. Meanwhile Johnson, Milner and Theo Walcott were causing moments of anxiety for Spain, with their forays down the wings; particularly Walcott whose pace was too much for Ramos, the latter lucky to escape a booking on two occasions.
The customary substitutions at half-time, three for Spain and one for England, did little to change the pattern of the game in the opening minutes of the second half. Then, on 50 minutes, England were awarded a free-kick on the right hand side of the Spanish defence. Milner hung the ball up to the far post where Darren Bent, still looking for his first Wembley goal, met it plum on the forehead. Pepe Reina, a half-time substitute in the Spanish goal, dived full stretch to his left but was beaten, the ball hit the inside of the post and rebounded across the face of goal, where Frank Lampard, following in, nodded it in to the empty net.
From that point on, normal service resumed, Spain feasting on possession, trying to play their way through the English back line. Villa had a good chance as Spain finally by-passed Jagielka and Lescott, however Joe Hart managed to push him wide, and Villa, uncharacteristically, squeezed the finish into the side netting. For the most part though, resolute defending thwarted Spain’s efforts and left them frustrated, which showed in Ramos’ two footed lunge on Bent, an action which surely would have seen him receive a straight red card had the match been a competitive on rather than a friendly.
Spain hit the woodwork with ten minutes remaining, David Villa with a well-executed volley from the edge of the area, the rebound falling kindly for the English. In a frenetic final five minutes Spain had several chances to grab an equaliser, the best of these fell to Cesc Fabregas, another half-time substitute, but he dragged his shot wide from eight yards when he really ought to have found the bottom corner.
Fabregas’ late effort summed up Spain’s performance on the night, neat and confident in the build-up, but just not quite clicking into place with the final ball or finish. I doubt Del Bosque, Spain’s coach, will be too troubled by the performance or the result, they have been known to lose the odd friendly in the past. It is the Spaniards’competitive record that is so impressive and I’m sure their confidence will remain undented for the summer.On the day of his eldest son’s wedding, England delivered the gift of respite to the much maligned Fabio Capello, his “experimental” side playing with heart and passion as well as discipline. Lescott and Jagielka, renewing their old Everton partnership, were assured at the back, Scott Parker played well and Danny Welbeck was excellent when he came on. The performances and the result will give the whole squad confidence moving forward towards Poland and Ukraine, especially in the absence of Rooney, Terry, Gerrard et al. Final score England 1-0 Spain, as hard fought a friendly as you could hope to see.
This article was commissioned by and published on http://www.euro-2012-blog.com/ . First published 14/11/11