Raheem Sterling finally finds the goal for England after 1102 days as England beat Spain with a score of 3-2. A scintillating performance by Southgate’s side certainly gave fans a nice memory and something to cheer about since England’s semis exit during World Cup. Outlets like Guardian, ESPN, etc are calling last night’s game a revolution in English football and their gracefulness in pitch yesterday, especially the first half, deserved all the praise the side can get.
Sterling scored a quick brace and Rashford chipped in another, to make it 3-0, and all of this happened in the first half. It looked like England had fixed all their woes which had followed them to Russia. The dependence of Harry Kane was starting to seem like a distant dream, and Sterling played like he couldn’t have handled being the scapegoat again. Pickford continued his sublime form from World Cup and lastly, it looked England could slot another 3 in the second half against Spain. Luis Enrique side, on the other hand, looked uninspired. The decision not to start an in-form Paco really seemed to hurt the side. Both Rodrigo and Aspas looked like U19 players playing the top flight for the first time. They couldn’t beat the English defenders even if their life depended on it, which was actually strange considering both have played pretty well in La Liga for their respective clubs. Albeit Spain turned their fortune around in the second half. Luis Enrique might have given some serious pep talk or scared them out of their wits as Spain performed like a proper team again; by the end of the game Spain had 73% possession and more shots on target than England. In the end, it was just a difference of clinical forwards. Both Aspas and Rodrigo were taken out for Paco and Morata soon into the second half. Paco justified his presence in the pitch by scoring the first goal in the game for Spain. Captain Ramos scored the second one.
While the first half score might have looked like Southgate had tactically outclassed Enrique, it was never such a case. Spain probably had a right approach to the game and was coming to this game after a 6-0 victory over Croatia. English players played their hearts out and bad performances by Spain players hurt their chances. The English defenders managed to contain the Spanish strikers. Winks and Dier both had a strong game on the pitch and helped control the flow. Kane might not have been on the scoresheet but was phenomenal with the ball whenever he got the chance and in a rare display Ramos had a very weak game. Throughout the first half, it always looked as if Ramos would be beaten by forwards racing towards the goal. He got his composure back in the second half but a 3 goal lead from the first half probably hurt their chances.
Yet, England could and should have scored more in the first half while Spain could have done more in the second. Pickford’s failed attempt at Cryuff turn near the goal post should have resulted in a goal for Spain had they been a tad better. All in all, it was a night of glory for the English as they probably played their best game yet since the 5-1 victory over Germany in 2001. As for Spain, Enrique needs to get the team selection right during big games and not rely on experiments.
By Srinivas Venkat