Eng­land given im­me­di­ate per­spec­tive on where they stand by Spain’s dis­play

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FOOTBALL - Richard Sutcliffe AT WEM­B­LEY Email: richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk Twit­ter: @RSootyYPS­port


‘MIND THE gap’ is a phrase so syn­ony­mous with the Lon­don Un­der­ground that it even ap­pears on t-shirts and other sou­venirs bought in their thou­sands ev­ery year by tourists.

For man­ager Gareth South­gate, how­ever, the need to bridge the gap be­tween Eng­land and world football’s elite was dom­i­nat­ing his thoughts on leav­ing the cap­i­tal this week­end.

De­feat to Spain in what was Wem­b­ley’s first taste of the new UEFA Na­tions League means the Three Lions have to look back to the 2002 World Cup and David Beck­ham’s penalty against Ar­gentina, then man­aged by Marcelo Bielsa, for the last time one of the world’s best were beaten in com­pet­i­tive ac­tion.

Not even tak­ing the lead with a truly de­li­cious goal from Mar­cus Rash­ford af­ter just 11 min­utes could buck that trend as the hosts were con­demned to de­feat by Saul and Ro­drigo.

“We know there is a dis­tance to go to the very top teams,” said South­gate. “At mo­ments we com­pete and we look like be­ing able to cre­ate chances.

“But there is a level for us to go to and that is a re­ally good chal­lenge for us over the next cou­ple of years.

“What I have to fo­cus on is im­prov­ing the team as much as I can. Teams have pressed us in cer­tain ways and, as the game wore on, we started to work out how to get through that press­ing. But it is a supreme test.”

Eng­land have achieved so much un­der South­gate. Reach­ing the semi-fi­nals of the World Cup, lay­ing to rest the ghost of penalty shoot-out heartache from the past in the process, re­stored a sense of pride to the na­tion.

How­ever, for all those hur­dles ne­go­ti­ated in what was a golden sum­mer for the Three Lions there re­mains a sense that get­ting the bet­ter of the top teams is a step too far.

Bel­gium and Croa­tia de­servedly beat Eng­land in Rus­sia, while this loss to Spain saw a re­turn of those fail­ings when up against the very best.

Poor tech­nique and a loss of com­po­sure, par­tic­u­larly at the back, proved costly once again in this first post-World Cup out­ing as Luis En­rique’s in­struc­tion for the at­tack­ing trio of Isco, Iago As­pas and Ro­drigo to play as far up the field as pos­si­ble was car­ried out to a tee.

A big fea­ture of Eng­land’s best run at a World Cup for 28 years was how their three-man back­line, and Harry Maguire in par­tic­u­lar, were able to bring the ball out of de­fence.

Thanks to the high press­ing of Spain at Wem­b­ley these for­ays for­ward were se­ri­ously cur­tailed with both time and space be­ing at a pre­mium.

As Eng­land in­creas­ingly went long as a re­sponse to the has­sling and har­ry­ing of Spain’s front three, the out­stand­ing Thi­ago took charge.

The Bay­ern Mu­nich man’s pass­ing was so ex­em­plary that it was fit­ting both goals came from his as­sists. He also brought such a tempo to pro­ceed­ings that Spain looked a big up­grade on the pon­der­ous out­fit that had per­formed so poorly at the World Cup.

To be fair to the hosts they did start and end the game on top, and the open­ing goal came via the sort of in­ci­sive pass­ing move that not so long ago looked way be­yond an Eng­land side.

It started with a brave de­fen­sive header from Luke Shaw in­side his own penalty area. Jesse Lin­gard then opened up play with a de­light­ful flick be­fore Jor­dan Hen­der­son and Harry Kane got in­volved to spread the ball to the left flank.

Shaw col­lected and then looked up be­fore play­ing the kind of killer pass that can give op­po­si­tion de­fend­ers sleep­less nights.

Not only did the qual­ity of his de­liv­ery take out two Span­ish de­fend­ers but goal­keeper David De Gea did not know whether to come or stay and Rash­ford glee­fully took ad­van­tage with a first-time fin­ish.

Rash­ford would have had a sec­ond ten min­utes be­fore the break but for a stun­ning re­ac­tion save from his Manch­ester United team-mate De Gea.

By then, how­ever, Eng­land were trail­ing. Just 120 sec­onds af­ter fall­ing be­hind the vis­i­tors drew level through a crisp fin­ish from Saul af­ter Shaw had been guilty of div­ing in on Dani Car­va­jaj as the right-back scam­pered down the wing.

It was a soft way to sur­ren­der a lead al­though worse lay ahead in the 33rd minute when Kane and John Stones both al­lowed Ro­drigo to nip be­tween them and head Thi­ago’s free-kick past Jor­dan Pick­ford un­chal­lenged.

Eng­land strug­gled af­ter Rash­ford had been de­nied by De Gea and the sec­ond half would be 31 min­utes old be­fore a home player touched the ball in­side the Span­ish penalty area.

Then, though, came a stir­ring cli­max that Danny Wel­beck thought he had capped with a dra­matic 97th-minute equaliser when fin­ish­ing from an acute angle af­ter De Gea had dropped the ball.

Ref­eree Danny Makke­lie had other ideas and cut short the cel­e­bra­tions by pe­nal­is­ing Wel­beck for a foul to en­sure Spain got the win their over­all play had de­served.

DE­CI­SIVE BLOW: Ro­drigo, top, scores Spain’s de­ci­sive goal as they beat Eng­land at Wem­b­ley in their UEFA Na­tions League, League A Group Four match. Mar­cus Rash­ford, above left, had given the hosts the lead. Harry Kane, above right, re­ceives the World Cup Golden Boot award from Three Lions man­ager Gareth South­gate. PIC­TURES: MIKE EGERTON AND ADAM DAVY/PA WIRE

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