England pass Spanish test
A second-half goal from Frank Lampard was enough for England as they held on for a 1-0 victory over Spain.
By James Riach at Wembley
Last Updated: 12/11/11 7:56pm
A second-half goal from Frank Lampard was enough for England as they battened down the hatches and held on for a 1-0 victory over world and European champions Spain at Wembley.
In a contest that was dominated by Vicente del Bosque's side, England defended well and limited their opponents to few chances despite being starved of possession.
Their hard work paid off four minutes after half time when Darren Bent's header hit the post and bounced across goal, leaving Lampard with a finish he simply could not miss.
David Villa hit the post with a left-footed volley before Cesc Fabregas spurned a glorious chance in the dying minutes, dragging his shot wide when he should have scored.
But England stood tall and impressed at the back as they fought for a victory which will give them confidence ahead of next year's European Championships.
There was something distinctly unfulfilling about the opening half an hour. A Spain side containing five members of the Barcelona team that mesmerised Manchester United on the same pitch last May did exactly the same again, only without the cutting edge provided by Lionel Messi.
The tiki-taka Spanish style left England without the ball for long periods. Bent in particular had a thankless task attempting to plug the holes Spain are so good at finding.
Entrusted with a midfield slot, Phil Jones had energy to burn, but as he implored his team-mates to follow his lead, the Red Devils man was belying his naivety.
Scott Parker had the right idea. One of the few not scarred by past experiences against Xavi and Andres Iniesta, he refused to be drawn out of position and stepped forward to make a tackle only when Spain threatened, which as it turned out, was not very often.
Indeed, it was England who had the first effort on goal. A Lampard pot-shot from 25 yards which Iker Casillas dealt with comfortably enough.
Having assumed the captain's armband from John Terry, Lampard made a decent fist of galvanising his troops and it was all rather routine until Spain suddenly clicked into life.
It was not that they began peppering Joe Hart's goal. Aside from Hart's Manchester City team-mate David Silva squeezing out a shot from an acute angle, Hart had as little to do as Bent.
But Iniesta did play a one-two with Silva to almost get himself through and Sergio Busquets lifted Xabi Alonso's chip into the box over from 10 yards.
Wearing a corsage on his lapel in addition to a poppy, a reminder he was missing son Pierfilippo's wedding in Milan, Capello must have been fairly satisfied at the break, especially as Terry, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere will hopefully be able to strengthen this starting line-up in Poland and Ukraine next summer.
And within three minutes of the break, England had gone in front with a goal right out of the Home Nations coaching manual after Alvaro Arbeloa had presented the hosts with a free-kick close to the touchline.
James Milner floated the ball into the box, where Bent climbed highest turning a header against the post with substitute Jose Reina absolutely static.
The Liverpool goalkeeper was still rooted to the spot when it bounced back across the line and Lampard was fastest to react, stooping to nod into an empty net.
It was his 23rd England goal, putting him level with Nat Lofthouse on the all-time list.
For a second, it appeared neither the players nor the crowd had considered the possibility of England being ahead.
And it took Spain a little while to react, which they did with a mixture of robust tackling, complaints to the referee and more purpose to their play.
Villa should have done better than blaze a shot into the side-netting after being brilliantly picked out by Busquets, while the Barcelona forward later fired a brilliant shot against a post after Glen Johnson had been caught in possession.
Amidst all this, Capello had given Jack Rodwell his debut and he exchanged passes with another substitute, Danny Welbeck to put Spain in trouble, the whole episode almost ending disastrously for the visitors as Reina had to turn away Alba's misdirected backpass.
As Spain began to turn the screw, so Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott rose to the challenge, each producing their best England performances in a disciplined defensive effort.
It was Parker who slid in to deny Gerard Pique though as he galloped forward, just about to connect with Fabregas' cut-back.
The former Arsenal man spurned two chances in a minute before the end. First Hart saved a deflected effort from the edge of the area, before Fabregas pushed the ball wide from 10 yards after finding himself clean through as England scored a welcome triumph.