By Neil Leverett
- England won on Spanish soil against their hosts for the first time in 31 years, beating La Furia Roja 3-2 in Seville
- Raheem Sterling ended his Three Lions’ goal drought with first-half brace at Benito Villamarin
- Gareth Southgate’s side end accusations England can’t ‘beat the big teams’
SEVILLE, SPAIN – After the Three Lions famous 3-2 victory in Seville on Monday night, what did we learn from England’s first win in Spain since 1987?
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England have emphatically confounded their doubters
England players and fans have been reveling in Monday evening’s stunning 3-2 victory against Spain in Seville, and rightly so. With the hosts having not lost a game on Spanish soil since 2003, and with the Three Lions without a win against La Furia Roja in over 30 years, few gave Gareth Southgate‘s men a chance at the home of Real Betis.
As Benito Villamarin returned to the international limelight however, the men in white stunned Spain in a whirlwind first-half display of counter-attacking that few national sides in world football could arguably have lived with.
Whilst it was true that Spain dominated large periods of the game, through a rather telling combination of 12 corners to England’s none, 73% possession and 24 shots at Jordan Pickford‘s goal – six on target – few could refute the claim England ‘did a job’ on their opponents, scoring through all three of their shots on target themselves.
The UEFA Nations League has rejuvenated a tired qualification process across Europe, but some still remain of the opinion that these a merely glorified friendlies. That may still leave England’s win still shrouded in a notion of doubt, but Spain had scored 10 times in their last two outings coming into this, and moreover had not lost a home game in 15 years of competition. It is surely that statistic that wins any argument on the matter?
Three Lions are becoming a clinical unit
If Spain were profligate in the extreme however, the Three Lions were at their razor-sharp best in this new era. England’s finishing ability in front of goal has been one of the main signifiers of the Southgate era – particularly during the World Cup in Russia.
That form has now carried through past their fourth-placed finish in the summer, and Monday night’s performance was the perfect demonstration. Despite a shaky start to Group A3 with a loss to La Furia, the Three Lions built on their rather frustrating goalless draw behind closed doors in Rijeka against Croatia and left Andalusia with the spoils.
In the past, England teams have been accused of the exact opposite in wasting chance after chance, so how can now complaints be made of a team who on Monday converted 100% of their clear openings created – if their are any?
England knew how their hosts Spain would approach the game. Many believe Southgate’s side’s best option in terms of success looking to the future, relies upon their electric pace on the break and finally that chance was handed them up against Luis Enrique‘s typically cavalier approach.
In creating – and scoring – their only three chances of the game, the visitors had been at their clinical best, and it is not something we may see that last of going forward.
Sterling breaks his much-publicised goal drought
Perhaps the only remaining concern of the this bright new era for England up to this point, had been the ongoing goalscoring malaises of Raheem Sterling. Those have now been finally put to bed after a two-year wait for the Manchester City forward to finally score again in his nation’s colours, after a period of a number of seasons of prolific form for his club.
There appears to be two schools of thought over the 23-year-old who is still yet to reach his peak. There are those that are quick to criticise the Citizens’ winger for his poor reading of the game and his sheer wastefulness for his country. His contributions to the England set-up are often given short shrift and that his presence leaves other out in the cold of the international picture that deserve a chance.
The second view, is that Sterling is simply not able to play to his best due to his position and England’s more cautious build-up play – for the most part. During the World despite not scoring, Sterling’s contributions against both Panama and Colombia were vital to England’s progression and let it not be forgotten that with the Three Lions 1-0 up in the semi-final, had Harry Kane opted to supply a waiting Sterling for a apparent tap-in into the Croatian goal, football may yet have ‘come home’.
Whatever the case, to not only break his drought with not one but two goals was the best way to answer to many critics. Whilst English hopes remain firmly on the shoulders of Kane, if Sterling can harness his ability and performances from those in Manchester, England will without a doubt be all the better for it.
Goals or not, Kane is becoming the ultimate number nine
With both Sterling and Marcus Rashford stealing the headlines from a goal perspective, Kane took a back seat in Seville. But his overall performance was nothing short of superb and the Tottenham Hotspur continues to show why he becoming perhaps the hottest striking property in world football.
The Golden Boot winner from the summer does not just bring goals to the table, but in dinner party vernacular, provides the fine dining, silverware and flowing conversation. His two assists served to underline that growing point.
Kane was the provider as target man for both opening goals, with a reputation as the ultimate nine firmly in tact. As Pickford’s clearance from his penalty area found Kane, the England striker had the composure and savvy to control, hold up the play and bring the scurrying Rashford into play on the left flank, who found Sterling galloping on the opposite wing.
For the Three Lions’ second, it was again the Spurs centre-forward who spurned the advances of both Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets to find space on the fringes of the Spain area, with Rashford against finding the freedom of Seville to steal in and turn from provider to scorer.
If Kane’s hand in one and two were via his strength and intelligence, the third and decisive goal led from his out-and-out target man facets. Found by Ross Barkley‘s pin-point delivery over the Spanish defence, Kane came into his own to control and lay off to Sterling on a plate, completing a whirlwind opening half flurry of goals.
The Spurs man may have had an indifferent start to the season, but as the footballing continues to mark Kane as one of the best strikers out there, his sublime and succinct showing in Seville will only serve to enhance his blossoming rap-sheet.
The Future is surely bright under Southgate
Victory in Spain is surely Southgate’s watershed moment. As the first manager to take England to a World Cup semi-final since Sir Bobby Robson, the former England defender has seen his stock rise to almost stratospheric proportions.
After the summer’s exploits, a steady continuation of progress was a must and after a defeat under the Wembley arch last month, revenge was sweet for Southgate in Andalusia on Monday.
The England boss has already shown he is not one to shy away from new approaches and after venturing away from a tried and tested 3-4-3 system that garnered such rewards in Russia, Southgate is not keen to rest on his laurels.
Not only that, the Three Lions’ head coach is getting the best from his players who continue to thrive under his guidance. Whilst England’s current crop are still an exciting breed, it is the likes of those coming through the youth ranks that will truly see whether England could compete against the very best on the grandest of stages.
We have seen glimpses of promise in Jadon Sancho who is enjoying a breakout season in the Bundesliga, but such is the depth of talent with James Maddison, Phil Foden and Mason Mount to name but three burgeoning prospects, Sancho may just be the cherry on the icing of a very moist England cake.
Matchday Four of the UEFA Nations League sees England host Croatia at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 18 November.
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