A round-up of the action in the top tier of the UEFA Nations League including an incredible victory for England over Spain in Sevilla.
I have to be honest, I did feel like throwing a shoe at the TV set after England failed to beat Croatia in the World Cup.
The nation was going crazy, as it does when England wins a football match or two, but in all honesty, we beat a bunch of tosh, and the only time we came up against quality we lost (twice to Belgium, and that semi-final against Croatia), and that’s why England’s win in Spain was so special.
The old man, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, ash ready to fall onto his newspaper, told me before the match that England was a good bet at 19/4. I thought he was nuts. Spain was 4/6 on, and for a good reason. England hadn’t scored an away goal against Spain since 1987, and Spain had not lost a competitive game since 2013, including three wins from three for new coach Luis Enrique.
I was prepared to watch the boys get stuffed.
And then something magical happened.
Spain 2 v 3 England
As a football fan, friendlies have no place in the world. I was an eager fan of UEFA’s decision to create the Nations Cup, and last nights scintillating sauce in Seville showed the world the difference between a friendly and a competitive tie.
The beauty of the Nations Cup is in the seeding.
The sharks play with the sharks and the plankton with the plankton. It makes for some terrific ties, and last night was hopefully not the exception, but the rule.
When I saw the lineup, I didn’t recognise some of the players in the English squad, and I hardly knew any of the Spaniards. A sign of the times. The end of the old guard, and ushering in of the new.
There was an expectant crowd in Seville, a stark contrast to the solemn silence that greeted the English side in Croatia on Friday.
Spain knew that a win would send them into the knockout phase of the competition, and they began well with Marco Asensio seeing his shot deflected wide, and the resultant corner nearly ending up in the back of the net except for a fortunate save from Jordan Pickford.
Despite the odds, England (6) is ranked higher than Spain (9) in the World Rankings, and the Three Lions showed why in the 15th minute by opening the scoring with a quite magnificent goal.
Pickford began things with a long ball to Harry Kane. The England captain found Marcus Rashford on the left, and the United forward cut a sublime ball through to Raheem Sterling who finished with aplomb. The goal, Sterling’s first in three years for his country, was reminiscent of Michael Owen’s wonder strike versus Argentina in 1998.
Spain reacted well after Sterling’s goal, but 15-minutes later England’s young lions doubled their lead. Once again, Pickford began things with a long ball up to Kane. The Spurs forward showed great strength to hold off the attention of a Spanish defender before finding Rashford passing him like a steam train. The United youngster controlled the ball with one foot and sent it into the back with the other.
The Spaniards were all over the place.
Then came another.
Wave after wave of England attacks ended when Ross Barkley finding Kane in the box with a delightful chip, and the leading man turned provider once again with a neat pass to Sterling to score his second from close range.
Spain had the best of it in the second half, as England sat back, trying to hit them on the break, but they never looked threatening. The referee should have punished Pickford after he pulled back a Spanish forward who picked his pocket during a moment of madness in the box, but the ref and his two assistants waved play on.
It was a critical moment because by that time Spain had pulled one back courtesy of a spanking Paco Alcácer near post header. Had the ref quite rightly given Spain the spot kick things might have been different. Instead, Sergio Ramos’s goal, a header with the last touch of the night, came a little too late.
It was a brilliant win for England, who began the match with an average age of 23.5 and without John Stones and Jordan Henderson through suspension. That said, Spain remain the odds-on favourite to top the group and go through to the knockout stages of the competition, but if they play like this, they will have no chance.
Here are the rest of the League A Tables, and the weekends’ results.
League A Tables
1. France – 4
2. Netherlands – 3
3. Germany – 1
Netherlands 3 v 0 Germany
Group 1 Winner Odds
1. Belgium – 6
2. Switzerland – 6
3. Iceland – 0
Belgium 2 v 1 Switzerland
Iceland 1 v 2 Switzerland
Group 2 Winner Odds
1. Portugal – 6
2. Italy – 4
3. Poland – 1
Poland 0 v 1 Italy
Group 3 Winner Odds
1. Spain – 6
2. England – 4
3. Croatia – 1
Croatia 0 v 0 England
Spain 2 v 3 England
Group 4 Winner Odds
League A Odds