Frank Lampard scored the only goal of the game as England dug deep to defeat world and European champions Spain despite Fabio Capello’s side being on the back foot for most of the match. It was a particularly impressive performance from Scott Parker and Phil Jagielka, the blocks on which this clean sheet was built.
In the absence of captain John Terry, Lampard wore the England armband while Everton centre-back Jagielka resumed his partnership with former teammate Joleon Lescott at the heart of defence as England lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. Spain named five of the Barcelona side that defeated Manchester United at Wembley in the Champions League final and eight of the XI who defeated the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final in their now usual striker-less system.
England were quickly on the infamous carousel. As expected, Spain dominated possession in the early going and pushed England back into their own half, the defensive midfield duo of Scott Parker and Phil Jones doing much harrying and preventing Spain from breaking through. When Spain did give up possession England often looked to counter-attack through the unlikely figure of Jones. The Manchester United player may be something of a utility man with an eye for attack but he is still at heart defensive. That led to England’s sporadic attacks being somewhat unnatural and petering out with little to show.
Once England got more of a handle on Spain, however, the first-half degenerated into a sloppy affair. England were able to win the ball back but their hard work defensively strangled their attacking impetus. Darren Bent was a peripheral figure as the lone striker for, when England did take possession, there were too few numbers in support of the Aston Villa forward. Jones was willing and Lampard mostly used the ball well but it was barely enough to trouble the Spanish defence. Spain meanwhile were patient as ever but England’s sturdy defence crowded out their burgeoning attacks.
For all Spain’s possession they were undone by a set-piece immediately after the break. James Milner was fouled and from the resultant free-kick Lampard put England in front after Bent’s header hit the post. Spain may have been dominant but the goal could certainly be seen as a reward for England’s obdurate defending, one made more possible by the uncertain goalkeeping of Jose Reina, a half-time substitute. Spain’s immediate response was frustration. Sergio Ramos and Cesc Fabregas were booked in quick succession – with the former fortunate only to see yellow – as the previously ice-cool world champions began to lose their calm.
Fernando Torres was introduced just after the hour mark for Sergio Busquets as Spain chased the lead. The Chelsea striker was part of a blur of red-shirted movement that strained for parity, with David Villa striking the post after a clearance fell kindly on the edge of the penalty area. Spain were frantic and England were again struggling to get out of their half, with the added weight of nearly a full game’s running dragging their legs down, not to mention the mental exertion needed to defend so resolutely for so long.
England (4-3-3): Hart; Johnson, Jagielka, Lescott, Cole; Jones (Rodwell 57), Parker (Walker 85, Lampard (Barry 57); Walcott (Downing 46), Bent (Welbeck 64), Milner (Johnson 76)
Spain (4-2-3-1): Casillas (Reina 46); Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos (Puyol 75), Alba; Busquets (Torres 64), Alonso; Xavi (Fabregas 46), Iniesta (Cazorla 75) Silva (Mata 46); Villa
Did you know… The last England player to score in a senior international victory over Spain before Lampard was Ugo Ehiogu, who scored the third goal in England’s 3-0 victory on February 28 2001. Nick Barmby and Emile Heskey netted the others in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s first match as England manager.