World Football - England stun Spain at Wembley
A massive defensive effort saw England cling on to a shock 1-0 win over world champions Spain in a friendly match at Wembley.
The hosts finally played like a team from coach Fabio Capello’s native Italy, defending in numbers and with great determination as they frustrated Spain and protected Frank Lampard’s 49th-minute goal.
Spain did have some chances late on - David Villa hit the post and Cesc Fabregas put wide from a good position - but despite all their possession they flattered to deceive, with Joleon Lescott a revelation in place of John Terry at the back.
Remarkably, England were missing several established players: skipper Terry was rested after his recent problems, the ailing Rio Ferdinand remains out of the picture for now while Wayne Rooney was ignored as Capello looked to test other options with the Manchester United striker suspended for the first three matches of Euro 2012. Jack Wilshere and Ashley Young, along with Rooney England's best creative players in Euro 2012 qualifying, were both absent through injury.
Capello, who missed his son’s wedding for this rearranged match, would have been impressed by the defensive performance which - aside from the occasional lapse of concentration by Glen Johnson - was perfect: Joe Hart only had to make one decent save all night.
Going forward England were less impressive, and largely ineffective - the goal came from a set piece, and the hosts looked much more likely when Daniel Welbeck and debutant Jack Rodwell came on later.
The first half was engaging if uneventful: England did their utmost to snuff out Spain’s attacking threat, which they largely did as the visitors dominated possession but only created a couple of half chances.
The hosts were hunting in packs, pressing from the front and barely giving Spain the space to open them up. A fine defensive performance from Lescott - who had Manchester City team-mate David Silva in his pocket - and the use of Manchester United defender Phil Jones in midfield further restricted Spain as they snapped at the heels of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
England’s work without the ball was as good as it has been under Capello: with it, however, they struggled, clearly missing the creative abilities of Rooney, Young and Wilshere as the balls forward were too long, too inaccurate and too infrequent - and with Darren Bent as the lone striker, the ability to create something out of nothing was lacking.
It took over half an hour for the first half chance to come, and strangely enough it fell to England as Lampard, skipper for the night, forced a nervous stop from Iker Casillas with a long-range drive.
The best opportunity of the half came five minutes later as pantomime villain Sergio Busquets - who poked away at the home fans with the over-reactions that he has developed a reputation for - hooked over from the penalty spot, distracted by the covering Johnson as Xabi Alonso’s curling pass caught England out after they had cleared a corner.
Otherwise Lescott and his defensive colleagues stifled the Spanish, restricting them to long shots that were either blocked or failed to test Hart, while Theo Walcott was a handful on the right despite lacking support both from team-mates and a lenient referee when he made his surging runs at Jordi Alba and Sergio Ramos, who was lucky not to be booked for several crude tackles on the Arsenal forward.
Half-time showed the gulf in quality at the disposal of the respective coaches: Stewart Downing is a fine player, coming on for Walcott, but Spain brought Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata into the fold, resting the legs of Silva and Xavi.
But it was England who took the lead. James Milner, playing on the left in Young’s absence, won and took a free-kick that he lofted into the box: Bent leapt highest, heading a powerful effort off the inside of the post, to which Lampard reacted quickest as he nodded the ball into the unguarded net.
It was a shock opener that echoed Switzerland’s win over Spain at the World Cup. Spain ended up champions, but Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Swiss showed that the best way to beat the Spanish is to frustrate and disrupt them - and hope for a lucky break at the other end.
However, they also became frustrated, at one point resorting to an overly-physical approach that saw a few heavy fouls and Fabregas lucky not to be sent off for leading with the arm in an aerial challenge with Phil Jagielka, who like Lescott had a fine game at centre half.
Villa missed a good chance when Iniesta sent him clean through, but the Barcelona striker was forced wide by the out-rushing Hart while Jagielka was on the line to close the angles as Spain’s record scorer hit the side netting.
But with livewire youngsters Welbeck and Rodwell now involved England were far more dangerous on the break, the former playing in the latter in after a lovely one-two: Everton’s Rodwell, 20, was denied by a last-gasp sliding tackle from Alba.
The latter stages saw Spain throw everything at England, who coped by - in the parlance of Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho - ‘parking the bus’.
Spain really should have levelled too - Villa hit the post after a great chest and volley from Johnson’s weak defensive header, the ever-present Scott Parker somehow got back to deny Gerard Pique a tap-in from Fabregas’s assist, with the former Arsenal midfielder guilty of a glaring miss in the last minute when he put wide from Villa’s low ball.
That was it for Spain, as England regrouped and battled on to claim a famous win - although one that should not paper over the clear creative shortfall when Rooney, Young and Wilshere are absent.