KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY —- England’s footballing confrontations with Spain were once epoch-marking affairs.
In 1929 Spain became the first continental nation to beat England, by 4-3 in Madrid (the affront to pride was overturned by 7-1 two years later);
in 1961 England’s step into the brave new world with 4-2-4 was rewarded with a 4-2 Wembley defeat of a Spanish side built around the world’s two leading club sides (Real Madrid and Barcelona, no change there then); and
in 1965 England won a friendly 2-0 in Madrid with the first, experimental version of Alf Ramsey’s Wingless Wonders (though he was personally unconvinced, starting the subsequent World Cup with Terry Paine and John Connelly).
Whether the latest meeting, a Wembley friendly, will be remembered with fond pride as the end of the beginning for a long and happy England reign of Gareth Southgate only time will tell.
Not so long ago England could boast one World Cup (1966) while Spain could offer only one European Championship (from 1964) in response.
Now Spanish football is all about possession in more ways than one: possession of the ball and allied possession of triumph in one World Cup (2010) sandwiched by two European Championships (2008 and 2012).
Spanish clubs, as back in the early 1960s, continue to outrank England’s finest when it comes to European competition.
Southgate took his place on the bench with the secure knowledge that two wins (2-0 v Malta and 3-0 v Scotland) plus a goalless draw in Slovenia had almost typed his name at the foot of the contract for the next permanent England manager.
The Football Association might want to take a week or so but all Southgate needed was for nothing catastrophic to engulf England against Spain.
The start could not have been more favourably engineered. Seven minutes gone and Jamie Vardy was pulled down by Pepe Reina. Spain’s keeper may have enjoyed a decent record saving penalties during his Liverpool days but he was left helpless by the decent of a current Kop favourite in Adam Lallana.
In fact Lallana’s match lasted only a further quarter of an hour before injury forced him to limp out of the action, to be replaced by Theo Walcott.
An increasingly soporific first half brought little more in terms of serious danger at either end.
Spain were fielding a much-weakened side because of injuries (Pique, Sergio Ramos, Iniesta, etc) and coach Julen Lopetegui made two further changes at half-time.
So did Southgate and the advantage was to England. Two minutes after the break and Henderson’s angled, chipped cross was dive-headed home by Vardy, the Leicester man’s fifth goal for his country.
Spain responded by creating a rare chance but David Silva’s deflected shot struck the outstretched leg of substitute goalkeeper Tom Heaton. The Burnley man was brought into action again by Alvaro Morata, diving to his left to save a low drove from the newly-arrived Real Madrid centre-forward.
All the Spanish hard work gained its ultimate reward in the 89th minute. Marcus Rashford and Aaron Cresswell lost possession on the edge of the visitors’ penalty box and the Spaniards broke away at lightning speed. Morata set off on angled run into the England half and set up Iago Aspas to score with a shot which ricocheted home off Heaton’s right-hand post.
Spain, looking a different team, comtinued to ramp up the tempo deep into stoppage time. Six minutes beyond the 90 and Isco stabbed a deserved equaliser.
Depressing for Southgate but still unlikely to deny him his own prize.
England: Hart (Heaton 46) – Clyne, Cahill (Jagielka 46), Stones, Rose (Cresswell 79) – Henderson, Dier – Sterling (Townsend 64), Lallana (Walcott 26), Lingard – Vardy (Rashford 67).
Spain: Reina – Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Inigo Martinez, Azpilicueta – Busquets – Vitolo (Koke 46), Mata (Aspas 46), Thiago (Herrera 56), Silva (Isco 64) – Aduriz (Morata 64).
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan (Romania). Attendance: 83,716