It must go down as one of the great England nights.
An unforgettable occasion as Gareth Southgate’s men defeated one of European football’s very best, the first time Spain have lost a competitive home game in 15 years. And the first time they have ever conceded three goals at home in a competitive fixture.
If you thought that the World Cup was just a dream or England got lucky when they reached the semi final then think again as this magical night transported us back to the heady days of summer.
England were fabulous, brilliantly ruthless and they produced arguably the most memorable scoreline since thrashing Germany 5-1 in Munich in 2001. And the performance was every bit as good.
Raheem Sterling ended his three year goal drought and, having managed just two goals in 45 games for England, suddenly he scored two in 45 minutes.
Marcus Rashford’s finish was superb and Harry Kane looked every inch a world class centre forward despite not managing to get in the goal rush.
England keeper Jordan Pickford’s precision long balls forward were a huge feature of the win as Southgate’s men defended for their lives, rampaged through midfield and were lethal in attack.
The World Cup changed everything, the mood of the nation and made us fall in love with England again. Well, this showed that it was not just a holiday romance.
They fought for each other, they battled and tackled and, despite being under siege for the entire second half, refused to buckle as they gave everything.
Over in the far corner up in the heavens of the Estadio Benito Villamarín, the England fans celebrated at the final whistle as Southgate and his players went over to applaud them evoking memories of their World Cup heroics. All that was missing was Southgate’s waistcoat.
England had as little as 28 per cent of possession at times and yet the forward line which had supposedly forgotten how to score seized on every counter attack.
It was like the Alamo early on as Spain threw everything at England who were holding on thanks to Pickford’s heroics and some desperate defending.
But maybe, just maybe, the turning point came with Eric Dier’s brutal tackle on Spain defender Sergio Ramos. Down went Ramos, Dier was booked but TV replays showed the tackle was hard but fair.
It set the tone, though, as England refused to be intimidated. And, after 16 minutes, the visitors went ahead as Pickford’s long clearance found Kane, he fed Rashford who played in Sterling.
Sterling took one touch, set himself and then smashed a shot into the top corner with a finish reminiscent of Michael Owen’s career defining goal against Argentina in France 98.
It was Sterling’s first goal for England in over three years, 1,102 days to be precise, and one to cherish. A fabulous goal for a fabulous player.
Then 13 minutes later, Pickford’s long ball started things all over again. This time it found Kane who held off Wolves’ Spain right back Jonny, turned and fed Rashford who raced through to fire past Manchester United team mate David de Gea.
Spain looked shell shocked. Big players were falling apart in front of our eyes. When Spain won at Wembley last month, we lamented the lack of midfield quality. Yet here was Dier, Ross Barkley and Harry Winks taking Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara and Saul Niguez apart.
At times, it felt like a dream. Then you realised it was actually happening. Sure enough, Busquets lost possession after 37 minutes, Barkley’s pass found Kane and his lay-off set-up Sterling to score from close range.
We never expected it to go on like this for the rest of the game. Spain were jeered off at half time, and they came out fighting after the break.
Spain substitute Paco Alcacer – his tenth goal in six games – headed home after 58 minutes to get the nerves jangling.
Suddenly England were rocking. Pickford was lucky to get away with a mistake which led to him pulling back Spain striker Rodrigo. Southgate threw on Kyle Walker, Nathaniel Chalobah (for his debut) and Trent Alexander-Arnold to stop the flow.
Incredibly, there were seven minutes of injury time, Spain hit the bar and then Ramos headed home a second with the last touch of the game.
England had done it. Their second half defiance as brave as the brilliance of their counter attacks in the first half. Suddenly we might just start taking the Nations League seriously
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