Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Spanish lesson a reality check for England

When David Beckham made history, coming on as expected at half-time to equal Bobby Moore's record of 108 caps as an outfield player, the acclaim was generous and deserved.

But in truth it was the only thing worth cheering for England fans as Fabio Capello's side were given a lesson in Seville. A Spanish lesson in football at the highest level.

Of course, there is no disgrace in losing 2-0 to Spain.

They are currently number one in the world. Unbeaten in 28 matches. European champions. Perhaps the nearest team in playing style to Brazil, with a splendidly fluent midfield containing Xavi and Andres Iniesta and an impressive striking partnership of Fernando Torres and David Villa.

England lie eighth in the world. Improving under Capello. So much so that expectations have been gathering during a World Cup qualifying campaign in which they have won all four matches so far.

This was a reality check. That is no bad thing. Because on the evidence of this friendly, there is a big difference between one and eight.

The most obvious being the way the Spanish treasure the football. Technically precise. Confident on the ball. Rarely a stray pass.

By contrast, while England have learned many things under the tutelage of Capello, they have not yet mastered the art of making the opposition expend energy while they protect possession.

So England huffed and puffed to try to win the ball and then, when they retrieved it, promptly let it go again too cheaply.

That was England's most damaging characteristic.

There were others, the main one being the uncertain form of goalkeeper David James in a position that must be of increasing concern for Capello. One first-half gaffe when he spilled a spinning ball was straight out of his bulky catalogue of bloopers.

Before the match Capello had said he wanted to see the 'Spirit of England', one that demonstrated they could beat anyone in the world.

Part of that involves knowing he has depth in his squad. Which no doubt was the reasoning for the in-form Michael Carrick partnering Gareth Barry in midfield and Stewart Downing keeping his place on the left following an encouraging display against Germany in Berlin.

But the selection only proved how much England missed the urgency and imagination of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney.

If nothing of any real note took place until the 36th minute, however, then it was a delight on the eye when Villa showed why he is arguably the hottest striker in Europe with the opening goal.

The fleetness and trickiness of foot to fool Phil Jagielka and John Terry was brilliant, the strike unerring.

Capello's five changes at half-time, including the arrival of Beckham and Frank Lampard, gave England more urgency but, apart from some smart moments in attack and defence from Shaun Wright-Phillips, they carried little threat.

Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey worked hard without any meaningful service. And that perhaps was the most disappointing aspect. No creativity. No drive either.

So Fernando Llorente scored Spain's second with a decisive header, Beckham tarnished his big night slightly with a yellow card for petulance towards the referee - where have we seen that before? - and England got what they deserved. Nothing.

Except, that is, a footballing lesson they would do well to heed.

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