x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

England post Euro marker

The defeat for Spain gives the European champions time to work on their problems, but for the home side, writes Duncan Castles, the win just papers over the many cracks.

Frank Lampard, right, the England captain last night, scored the only goal in the win over Spain.
Frank Lampard, right, the England captain last night, scored the only goal in the win over Spain.

England have bettered the best. Odd to think then that this friendly international may do more for Spain than it will for Fabio Capello's men. The tactics were regulation - deep, 11-man defending against a superior passing side; waiting upon rare forays forward to steal an advantage.

A deciding goal utterly against the course of play came from a free kick. James Milner won the set piece then delivered it across the area. Darren Bent headed it off the inside of a Spanish upright and Frank Lampard touched the rebounding ball over just before it spun in of its own accord.

The vaunted visitors, who had stacked World Cup upon continental title, were then frustrated by woodwork, goalkeeper and inaccurate finishing, allowing Wembley Stadium to delight in an unexpected 1-0 victory. The danger, though, is in believing England's problems are resolved.

England made it to the Euros nervously, but perspective has never been something the nation's football has overflown with. As many call for the appointment of a manager who faces a potential jail sentence, it is forgotten that the last time an Englishman coached their national team, Steve McClaren's men did not even reach the finals.

There is persistent squabbling over Capello's linguistic failings, his some-would-say-understandable desire to be elsewhere, the footballers he selects, and the formations he sends them out in. Yet, it is the fundamentals of the team that suggest Poland-Ukraine is not going to be happy place for them.

Put simply, England are preparing to enter the tournament minus their most important player and with their captain on the rack for both legal and sporting reasons.

As it stands, Wayne Rooney is suspended for all three group games. England have appealed a ban the forward received for senselessly kicking a Montenegrin.

Then there is John Terry, a central defender with starkly diminished speed and agility, but whom has been restored to England's captaincy.

Now Terry is under police investigation for alleged racial abuse. Terry denies any racist intent, Capello says the defender is innocent until proven otherwise and will remain his captain, but the team will only be damaged by this.

As the English reinvent self-destruction, Spain have been restructuring the game. Asked about the world and European champions last week, Capello talked of "the new football".

"To win back the ball quickly, attack the ball and the opponents' midfielders; this is the new football," Capello explained before stating that, for England, it would be "a big mistake to copy this style".

Yet so seductive are Spanish methods that Andre Villas-Boas sold himself to Roman Abramovich by promising to implement them at Chelsea before going shopping in Barcelona's B team.

Tottenham Hotspur can imagine a defence led by another Barca youth, Marc Bartra.

No question then that Spain stand on the summit; only over how long they can remain there. Barca's early season travails do not, they argue, indicate reduced appetite on the core of a national team that has now won everything, but the effects of a poorly executed pre-season.

Defeat at Wembley may be a timely warning. So dominant is Spain's carousel passing that there is a danger of complacency. The need for a clinical striker does not look like being met by awaiting Fernando Torres' return to form.

Better to lose now than next summer. One thing remains clear. Spain's way of playing has every chance of winning the European Championship. England's has precious little.

sports@thenational.ae