Spain struck twice in the final 20 minutes as goals from Mario Gaspar and Santi Cazorla ended England’s 15-match unbeaten run in Alicante on Friday.
Villarreal right-back Gaspar scored a sensational volley to open the scoring when he swivelled in mid-air to turn home Cesc Fabre- gas’s pass.
And Cazorla sealed the win for the European champions when he slotted home from the edge of the area six minutes from time.
England boss Roy Hodgson kept his pre-match promise to leave captain Wayne Rooney on the bench with Harry Kane and Ross Barkley given their chance to shine.
First defeat for England in 16 games, back to Uruguay at the World Cup, & a reminder of the standards in Euro football they have not reached
— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) November 13, 2015
And it was the visitors who had the first two openings, but neither Raheem Sterling or Barkley could find the target when well-placed on the edge of the box.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was once again whistled by some of the home support for his disparaging comments towards Real Madrid in recent months. However, he nearly provided the perfect response as his deflected effort from 20 yards looped inches wide on 15 minutes.
Sergio Busquets then volleyed just off target from a corner as Spain began to take control of the game. However, Vicente del Bosque’s men suffered a blow when Thiago Alcantara hobbled off with a knee injury midway through the half to be replaced by Cazorla.
Del Bosque had surprisingly chosen to play two strikers in the form of Paco Alcacer and Diego Costa and both came close to the opener before half-time.
Alcacer had the best opening when he was played in by a lovely through ball by Andres Iniesta, but pulled his shot across Joe Hart’s goal and beyond the far post.
Costa’s search for an international goal on Spanish soil continued when his curling effort flew past Hart’s far post.
Iker Casillas was finally forced into action 10 minutes before half-time when he trapped Kane’s weak effort before Fabian Delph tested the Porto ‘keeper more seriously with a fierce drive that Casillas collected at the second attempt.
Costa had the first chance of the second period, but saw his shot smothered behind before another disappointing display at international level was brought to a premature end when he was replaced by Juan Mata 25 minutes from time.
Hodgson introduced Spurs duo Dele Alli and Eric Dier with the latter making his senior international debut.
But it was their club teammate Kane who came closest to opening the scoring for England when his shot from range flew just wide 23 minutes from time.
Gaspar decided the contest with a rare moment of quality four minutes later when he acrobatically connected with Fabregas’s chipped pass to send a looping volley over a helpless Hart.
Hodgson brought on Rooney for the final 15 minutes in search of an equaliser.
Instead, England were caught short at the other end when Cazorla rolled the ball into the bottom corner from Nolito’s cut-back.
Rooney clipped the top of the crossbar but the game was gone.
France and Germany played out a friendly in Paris but events outside the stadium soon cast a shadow over the match.
Loud explosions were heard near the Stade de France, with police also saying that at least 18 people had been killed following “multiple shootings”.
Two unsettlingly loud explosions appeared to emanate from outside the national stadium in the northern Paris suburb of Saint Denis and French president Francois Hollande, who was in attendance, left the stadium early amid the reports of shootings in central Paris and of an ongoing hostage crisis in the Bataclan concert venue.
— Anthony Martial (@AnthonyMartial) November 14, 2015
Despite that, very few, if any, of the crowd of close to 80,000 at the stadium appeared to be aware of any drama as they celebrated goals by Olivier Giroud and Andre-Pierre Gignac late in either half of the match.
However, with tight security building up around the stadium, confusion took hold after the final whistle.
With exit points being limited, large numbers of fans invaded the pitch, although there was no visible sense of panic.
All this followed events earlier in the day as the German team were evacuated from their hotel in the west of Paris following a bomb scare. Despite that, the game started as planned and France claimed the victory in the first meeting of the nations since Germany won 1-0 in a World Cup quarter-final in Rio de Janeiro in July 2014.
Little of note happened on the field in the first half hour and the atmosphere became somewhat surreal when the explosions were heard.
Martin O’Neill has admitted he would be open to extending his contract as Republic of Ireland manager.
The 63-year-old is understood to have been offered an extension to the two-year deal he signed in November 2013 regardless of whether he steers the nation to the Euro 2016 finals via a play-off double-header against Bosnia-Herzegovina over the next few days.
O’Neill confirmed the Football Association of Ireland wanted him to stay, and that he was happy to talk to chief executive John Delaney about it.
He said: “Absolutely, I am open to it. We had a conversation after Scotland and John was very supportive, felt as if this is the way we want to go forward, and that was very pleasing to hear.
“We haven’t really talked about it since, but I haven’t been pressing because there are actually very important things to deal with. “If we could qualify, that would be great – I would be delighted to do that if that’s the case. But if we didn’t qualify, John and myself will sit down and see where we go.
“I think John and the board would want it to continue and I have enjoyed it immensely. Sometime in the new year – probably the earlier, the better – John and I would sit and have a discussion.”
Skipper Robbie Keane insisted it would be “silly” for O’Neill’s services not to be retained, with he and assistant Roy Keane having overseen a campaign which could yet pay tangible dividends for the efforts over the last two years.
The LA Galaxy striker said: “From the very start of the campaign, as a group we have grown into it a lot more. It would be silly if the manager didn’t get a new contract – he has obviously done a great job.
“But we certainly want to finish this campaign off now with qualification for France, because we started the campaign off having that goal in our minds and it would certainly be disappointing if we didn’t do it.”
The Republic face Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica on Friday night and then again in Dublin three days later.
Having re-kindled their qualification hopes with a shock victory over world champions Germany, defeat in Poland saw an automatic berth snatched from their grasp.
O’Neill believes progress has been made, but knows there is work to be done with Shay Given, John O’Shea and Keane approaching the end of their international careers.
He said: “There is a set of players here well into their thirties who need replacing but we want to replace them with really top-quality younger players.”
Hungary travel to Oslo tonight to take on Norway in one of the other play-off ties, kicking off at 23:45.