Raheem Sterling scored twice as England laid down what could be a marker by beating Spain 3-2 in a thrilling and feisty clash in Seville.
The result keeps England’s hopes of winning their Uefa Nations League group alive but perhaps more importantly will act as a redemption for England’s under-fire front three who all involved in England’s three goals.
The Three Lions only had three shots on target all game, but that they were so clinical in front of goal, that was all they needed.
Coming into the match, so much focus had been placed on England’s mis-firing forward line and this match will serve as a handy riposte to their critics. Sterling was in the midst of three-year goal drought for his country, there were question marks over Marcus Rashford’s finishing ability, and concerns over Kane’s fitness.
AS IT HAPPENED: England 3 Spain 2
The platform for the win was laid down in a brilliant first half as Sterling doubled his England goal tally to four, either side of a Marcus Rashford strike. Kane too was in the thick of the action, being heavily involved in all three goals.
Despite Spain striker Paco Alcacer scoring yet another goal and some second half nerves – goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was supremely lucky to not concede a penalty after having his pocket picked in the box – England managed to see out the match until Sergio Ramos scored with the last kick of the game.
Not a single one of England’s players were even born the last time the Three Lions won, or even scored away to Spain, back in 1987.
England’s youngest side in 60 years made a nervous start and there may have been fears the floodgates would open early after Spain had a host of opening chances in the opening four minutes.
Debutant Jonny had a half-chance and forced a corner. A well-worked routine set up Thiago but his vicious shot was deflected just wide. From that corner, a near-post flick left Jordan Pickford exposed but the prone goalkeeper somehow saved the follow-up shot with his head as England escaped the opening onslaught unscathed.
When Marco Asensio skinned Kieran Trippier and forced Pickford into another save, the alarm bells were ringing – but then England’s under fire front three all combined to give the Three Lions the lead through a classic counter attack.
Pickford fired a long-ball to Kane and his flick-on exposed Spain’s high line and found Rashford down the left. Rashford in turn found Sterling driving through the middle, the Manchester City man had time to take a touch and then larruped an unstoppable shot right into David De Gea’s top corner.
The pattern of the game was being set. Spain dominated possession and were content to press and probe in the final third, England were happy to play on the break, and it was another long-ball that undid Spain.
But whereas the first goal needed three the passes, the second only needed two. A Pickford goalkick found Kane on the right this time, and England’s captain played a gem of a through ball to Rashford who sprung the off-side trap and nonchalantly slotted the ball past De Gea.
Now England were pressing high and Spain looked shellshocked. La Furia Roja were now finding it impossible to play their way out of trouble and get the ball past England’s press as Gareth Southgate’s men chased a third goal.
And it came as Spain once again failed to clear their lines. The ball fell to Ross Barkley and with the Spanish backline in all sorts of disarray, the Chelsea man lifted a perfectly-weighted pass over the top to find Kane and his ball across the six-yard box found Sterling to tap home a third.
Spain came with more purpose and desire in the second half and many of the crowd in Seville thought Asensio had given Spain a lifeline, but Gomez adjusted well to deflect his shot into the side netting. Saul then forced a comfortable save from Pickford.
Spain were knocking on the door and got a goal back after taking advantage of some slack England defending at a corner. In his first act since coming on as a substitute Paco Alcacer met the ball and sent a delightful header above and across Pickford in goal to reduce the deficit.
The goal exposed the inexperience and nerves in this young Three Lions line-up. Gaps were beginning to open up in England’s defence and their previous attacking fluency was looking rushed and they were lucky not concede a second through Pickford’s howler.
England’s goalkeeper attempted a Cruyff turn and had his pocket picked in the box and was supremely lucky to escape a penalty after tussling with Rodrigo before bundling the ball behind for a corner.
Southgate saw the danger signs and brought on Kyle Walker and reverted to a back three which helped England tighten up, as the Three Lions managed to see out the match with only one or two uncomfortable moments until Sergio Ramos stole in at the back post to peg the score back to 3-2 with the last kick – or head – of the game.