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Spain stars fail to shine as England upset odds

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12 Nov 2011 19:47:06

Spain stars fail to shine as England upset odds

Spain's galaxy of stars arrived at Wembley feted as the greatest international outfit since Pele led Brazil to glory in the 1970 World Cup, but for once Vicente del Bosque's dream team failed to live up to the hype.

The reigning world and European champions were expected to dish out a footballing lesson to an England team missing a host of key players including John Terry, Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Young.

But the usually sublime Spaniards struggled to match their elite billing as Frank Lampard's second-half goal in Saturday's friendly condemned the visitors to just their second defeat in 10 matches.

Xavi and Andres Iniesta's passing carousel, so often a disorientating ride for opponents, never got up to full speed and that lack of energy allowed England's young stand-ins to keep Spain at arms length.

Since Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup in Johannesburg 16 months ago Spain have swept imperiously through their Euro 2012 qualifying group, winning all eight matches and scoring 26 goals in the process.

But their results in friendly fixtures have been less impressive, with heavy defeats in Argentina and Portugal last season followed by a loss against Italy in August.

And although Spain had won their last three meetings with England, Wembley has been a less happy hunting ground, with a 2-1 success in 1981 their only victory in six visits to the English national stadium.

So it proved again as Spain produced plenty of their trademark tiki-taka passing without ever turning their territorial dominance into a serious goal threat.

To England's credit they defended well enough to prevent Spain carving out any clear sights of goal until the 37th minute when Xabi Alonso's perfectly-weighted pass was clipped over by Sergio Busquets.

There were few chances for either side in the first half, which meant a quiet day for Real Madrid goalkeeper Casillas, who was making his record-equalling 126th appearance for Spain.

Fittingly, Casillas, who can break Andoni Zubizarreta's record against Costa Rica next week, had made his debut for Spain's Under-15 team at the old Wembley 15 years ago.

He can't have had many less demanding matches than this in his illustrious career and didn't have a save to make until he denied Lampard in the 32nd minute.

Casillas was one of three Spanish players taken off at half-time and his replacement Jose Reina had to pick the ball out of the net just four minutes after his introduction as Lampard headed home from close-range.

It didn't help Spain's cause that Iniesta, David Villa and David Silva were all liable to drop deep in a bid to influence play, leaving them without a recognised forward who could add a cutting edge to their smooth approach play.

When Villa did stay up front he caused problems, nipping round England goalkeeper Joe Hart with a penetrating run before shooting into the side-netting.

The shock of falling seemed to rattle Spain, who responded with some misdirected defiance that saw Sergio Ramos and Cesc Fabregas booked in quick succession for a pair of crude fouls.

Del Bosque sent on Chelsea striker Fernando Torres in search of an equaliser, but it was Villa who went closest with an agile effort that hit the far post.


AFP

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