Harry Kane claimed the referee “bottled it” after England were robbed of the stoppage-time goal that would have prevented their UEFA Nations League opener ending in defeat to Spain.
Back in action for the first time since equalling their best-ever World Cup performance on foreign soil, the Three Lions got off to a superb start as Marcus Rashford swept home Luke Shaw’s exceptional pass.
But Saul Niguez and Rodrigo turned the match on its head as Spain ran out 2-1 victors on a night when Shaw’s nasty-looking injury early in the second half took the sting out proceedings.
England rallied late on – perhaps buoyed by positive news from the dressing room about the left-back’s condition – and looked to have snatched a draw through substitute Danny Welbeck.
But referee Danny Makkelie infuriated the hosts by ruling that the forward had fouled David De Gea when collecting a high ball, leading to sharp words from captain Kane.
Asked if the goal should have stood, the England striker told Sky Sports Football: “Yeah, 100 per cent.
“In those big environments you need the ref to stay strong and unfortunately he’s bottled it.
“Danny Welbeck just stood there, the keeper went to catch it, he’s put it away – I don’t know how it’s a foul.
“You need a firm ref who under the pressure doesn’t give wrong decisions.
“Disappointing to finish that way, I thought we played well – especially second half – and deserved a draw at least.
“It was a good game, it was a real test against a team that keep the ball really well. We probably created the better chances throughout the game.”
The Luis Enrique era for Spain began with a win in the new manager’s first game in charge, as ‘La Seleccion’ saw off England 2-1 at Wembley in a close-fought affair.
Enrique, brought in to revitalise the national team after a second straight disappointing World Cup, saw several key players play at their best to ensure a victory that often looked precarious.
Here’s a closer look at how the new Spain boss got his reign off to the best possible start.
Goals – 2
Shots – 9
Possession – 55%
Accurate passes – 533
Dribbles – 5
Enrique’s first team selection as Spain manager saw the side adopt a familiar 4-3-3, with Real Madrid playmaker Isco part of the front three alongside Iago Aspas and Rodrigo, while Nacho replaced the retired Gerard Pique at centre-back.
As usual, Spain dominated possession, and scored two slick goals after falling behind early. However, they didn’t quite make their dominance count, with keeper David de Gea being called upon to make a couple of outstanding saves to preserve the win.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Spain had dialled down the high press during the World Cup, but Enrique brought it back, and it had an instant impact. England kept trying to play out from the back, but Spain’s relentless attackers constantly harried the Three Lions backline, drawing several errors.
However, the press also left Spain exposed on occasion, as the players committed left space behind. When England were able to bypass the press, they exploited that, finding their wide men with aplomb.
Getting the win was a good way to start for the former Barcelona and Roma manager, but when Enrique knows his side survived by the skin of their teeth. The defending was shaky at times and better England finishing would have certainly led to a loss, while Spain didn’t create enough opportunities of their own.
Getting a new-look midfield and an attack shorn of Diego Costa to work seamlessly was impressive, and augurs well for the future.
However, there’s still a lot to work on.
RATING – 7/10
England failed to build on the momentum of reaching the World Cup semi-finals to begin their Nations League campaign as Spain came from behind to win 2-1 at Wembley in Luis Enrique’s first game in charge.
Gareth Southgate couldn’t have asked for a better start in England’s first game since returning from Russia as Marcus Rashford swept the hosts into an early lead.
But Spain punctured the feel-good factor surrounding the Three Lions by hitting back through Saul Niguez and Rodrigo before half-time.
Here, we focus on the England manager’s performance.
Goals – 1
Shots – 9
Possession – 45%
Accurate Passes – 415
Dribbles – 5
Southgate went with the 3-1-4-2 formation that served England well in the summer. Joe Gomez replaced Kyle Walker as the third centre-back, while Luke Shaw made a long-overdue return as left wingback, and Marcus Rashford partnered Harry Kane up front.
England acquitted themselves well, taking an early lead, with Manchester United duo Shaw and Rashford combining superbly. However, they were caught out twice by Spain, who had the lead by half-time. England passed up several chances to equalise, with Rashford particularly guilty.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
With Spain defending narrowly, England constantly targeted the space on either flank. The Three Lions defenders and midfielders kept pinging long diagonals to find their wingbacks, with Harry Maguire and John Stones in particular showing their prowess at picking out a colleague.
Kieran Trippier, Shaw and Danny Rose all profited, with Shaw providing the assist for England’s goal off a flowing move. However, Spain defended their centre well, shackling England’s strikers, which negated England’s width.
Southgate ditched the waistcoat that had become an inadvertent fashion statement over the summer, but little else had changed about the England manager and his side over the last couple of months.
With better finishing, the conversation would have been about how England were truly resurgent, backing up their World Cup performance with a win over a traditional power.
Instead, they were left to rue familiar failings in defence and attack as they began their UEFA Nations League campaign with a loss.
RATING – 7/10