Estadio José Rico Pérez, Alicante, Spain
Two sublime goals from Mario Gaspar and Santi Cazorla helped Spain defeat an in-form England side to end their unbeaten run in 2015. England who had played some below-average opponents in their qualification campaign for the European Championships next summer, were given a reality check, and it didn’t come as a surprise, with Spain dominant in possession.
As expected the defending European Champions dominated early on, but couldn’t really create anything. The visitors couldn’t really get a hold of the ball until the sixth minute. Raheem Sterling found space, but his shot flew high and wide. A minute later, and a rare misplaced pass by Andres Iniesta was almost capitalised by Ross Barkley, but again his effort was dragged harmlessly wide. Ten minutes into the game and neither side had really looked to test the opposition’s keeper.
A quarter of an hour gone, and Spain’s first real opportunity came from centre-back Gerard Pique, he picked up the ball outside the area and his deflected effort flew yards wide. The resulting corner was played short and after it was worked to Iniesta, his cross was met by Paco Alcácer, but his header was off-target. Twenty-two minutes in, and the home-side enjoyed three quarters of the possession, but were yet to trouble Joe Hart, skippering the side in Wayne Rooney’s absence.
Spain came inches close to taking the lead. After Diego Costa did well to win a corner, the eventual set-piece found Sergio Busquets, and his volley just drifted wide of the far post. Midway through the first half, Spain had to make a change. Thiago Alcantara was substituted for Santi Cazorla, the former hobbling off with an injury. A minute later and England came close. Ryan Bertrand’s dangerous low cross just couldn’t pick out anyone in white. Then it was Spain’s turn to try and test England’s resolve; but Alcácer’s effort drifted wide of Hart’s goal.
Spain came close again on the half-hour mark. Cesc Fabregas’ cross found his Chelsea teammate Costa, but his curling effort, just wouldn’t bend enough, as it missed the target. The game had become more open and England were definitely in this game, a nice turn from Barkley set him away on the break, with players left and right, he went alone but his scuffed strike didn’t test Iker Casillas, who was making his 165th cap for his national country.
England’s best chance was a half-chance and it fell to Tottenham’s Harry Kane, but his shot lacked power and was easily gathered by Casillas, it was the only shot on target so far. They had another sight on goal- a while later, a loose pass found Fabian Delph and his strike was gathered by Casillas at the second attempt. A minute before the interval, and England had another sniff on goal. After some nice intricate passing, the ball fell to Kane, but again, another scuffed effort scewed wide. A late flurry of Spanish pressure, didn’t amount to anything, as the half drew to a close, promising an equally entertaining second half.
During the break, Barcelona skipper Iniesta was substituted for Nolito- the second Spanish change of the night. After the break and both sides were cancelling each other out early on. After the hour-mark, with nothing much happening for either side, both opted to make changes. Delle Ali came on for Delph, Eric Dier came on for Adam Lallana. For Spain, Juan Mata came on for Costa.
Spain came close minutes after their arrival, Jordi Alba’s effort testing Hart, for once, at his near post. After a succession of corners, the latest, found Fabregas in space, and his cross picked out Marc Bartra, but his improvised flick looped over the bar. Minutes later, Kane found space and unleashed a ferocious drive that had Casillas scrambling, but it swerved just wide.
Spain made them pay for all their missed opportunities, and it was brilliant. In the seventy-second minute, Fabregas’ inch perfect dinked pass was met exquisitely by Mario Gaspar, who acrobatically volleyed first-time past a helpless diving Hart to give the Spaniards the lead. It was nothing less than the former World Champions deserved. After the goal, both sides made changes. Wayne Rooney came on for Barkley and Pedro Rodriguez came on for Alcácer and soon after Koke came on for Busquets.
With just over ten minutes to play and England were trying to find a leveller. Kane was involved again, this time he lost his footing as he tried to volley, and the resulting effort was dragged wide. Bartra was then substituted for Chelsea’s César Azpilicueta. It was his teammate Pedro, though, who almost wrapped things up, his drive was parried by Hart and the rebound from the same man was deflected for Hart to gather easily.
They did wrap it up though, after some nice one-touch play, Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla swept in- off the post, to seal a fine victory, with Hart rooted to the spot. As a result, England brought on Gary Cahill for Chris Smalling, possibly for damage limitation, and matters got worse when Michael Carrick had to be stretchered off for Jonjo Shelvey.
They did have one last oppportunity to get one back. Kyle Walker’s cross found Rooney, whose volley into the ground, hit the top of the crossbar. They should’ve scored deep into injury time when Kane’s effort forced Casillas into a save, and when the ball fell to substitute Alli, he couldn’t control the loose ball and the chance went begging. That was the last chance of the game as the referee blew his whistle to end the game.
England were well defeated by a strong Spanish side, thanks to two fantastic goals from Gaspar and Cazorla. The Three Lions face France at Wembley next; in the hope of doing much better against next summer’s European Championship hosts.