Spain 2 England 0
England slumped to their first defeat in 16 games as they were comfortably beaten by Spain in Alicante.
Roy Hodgson’s side breezed through their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with 10 straight wins – but this friendly was a reality check as their flaws were exposed by the reigning champions.
England held out for 72 minutes until Mario scored with a superb acrobatic finish from Cesc Fabregas’ cross before Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla slotted in a late second.
It was a harsh lesson for England and evidence of the gap they must bridge before France next summer, their misery increasing when Michael Carrick was taken off on a stretcher in stoppage time.
A serious test – how did England fare?
Not very well.
This was a chance for England to make a mark against quality opposition but where was the ambition in manager Roy Hodgson’s game plan? If there was any serious attacking ambition – and this was a friendly after all – it was difficult to detect.
England emerged from this friendly, against significantly tougher opposition than any they faced in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, with little credit.
Spain looked a class above an experimental line-up and at times England looked in awe, sitting back as the passing ‘carousel’ constructed by players of the pedigree of Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets weaved its way around them.
If England can take something away from this defeat, it is that this was a brutal example of what they need to overcome if they hope to make an impact at the sharp end of next summer’s European Championship.
While mistakes may go unpunished against the likes of Lithuania, San Marino and Estonia, there is no margin for error when they face a team of the calibre of Spain.
Hodgson’s selection puzzle
England’s manager is fond of the combinations in his team – and this was surely a chance missed to road test a partnership that could be vital in France next summer.
There was general astonishment when the team-sheet landed and Manchester United duo Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were paired in central defence, meaning Everton’s John Stones was absent.
Hodgson appears keen to get Jones into his side in a variety of positions – but he surely cannot be seriously considered as a potential starter in France.
Stones is emerging as a player of genuine class, so it was a puzzle that he was not paired with the rapidly-maturing Smalling in what may well be Hodgson’s first-choice selection next summer.
Harry Kane justified his selection up front but the likes of Fabian Delph and Kyle Walker suggested they will be shadow squad men and not much more.
And what a miserable night for Carrick, given the chance to show he can influence England games against opposition of elite standard.
As so often in a strangely disappointing England career, he disappeared into complete anonymity, his misery completed by a late injury.
How are the reigning champions shaping up?
Spain may not be the side that ruled world football in that golden era between 2008 and 2012 when they claimed the European Championship twice and the World Cup but they still have quality to spare.
When you look at their bench and see David de Gea, Juan Mata, Pedro, Koke and Santi Cazorla – and they were without the injured David Silva, Sergio Ramos, Isco and Juanfran – it speaks eloquently of their class.
One big problem is finding a striker. Chelsea’s Diego Costa has yet to make his mark at this level and that struggle continued here.