Mario Gaspar brought an otherwise drab friendly in Alicante to life with a stunning volleyed goal to help Spain a 2-0 victory over England in international friendly action. The heavyweight contest between the defending European champions and an England side that had emerged with the only perfect record in Euro 2016 qualifying was heading for an uneventful draw, when Spain’s right-back produced a moment of brilliance.
From Cesc Fabregas’ chipped pass into his path on the edge of the box, Gaspar turned and launched into a flying acrobatic volley to catch the ball just right and send it flying past Joe Hart and into the England net. Remarkably for the Villarreal defender, it was his second goal for his country in just his second appearance, having netted on his debut against Ukraine last month. With Spain's tails up, Santi Cazorla then made sure of the victory by stroking the ball into the net late on.
For Spain it meant a seventh consecutive victory as Vicente del Bosque’s side continued to build momentum ahead of their attempts to defend their trophy in France next summer. After breezing through qualifying with 10 wins out of 10, this was a very different challenge for England, just as coach Roy Hodgson had desired when setting up such high-quality opposition. For much of the first half, England struggled to string any passes together as Spain dominated possession in midfield. England were happy to sit back and play on the break, but whenever they did go forward the shooting, from Ross Barkley in particular, left much to be desired.
Still, Spain were creating no opportunities of note, despite having so much of the ball. Diego Costa, in poor form for Chelsea and with just one goal since declaring his allegiance to Spain, continued his struggles with his adopted nation, while forward partner Paco Alcacer fared little better. The Valencia striker dragged Spain’s best chance of the first half wide of Hart’s post.
And when Vicente del Bosque’s side lost Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara to injury just before the half-hour mark they lost some of their early rhythm on the ball. That lack of fluency provided England with a sight of goal when some sloppy passing gave possession to Fabian Delph, who stung the palms of Iker Casillas. Harry Kane, playing as a lone striker supported by Barkley, should have found the target after England’s best passing move of the contest, but shot tamely wide of the target.
With substitutions coming from both sides and little in the way of fluency from either side in the second half, the contest appeared to be heading toward a goalless stalemate. Instead Gaspar produced something quite out of keeping with what had come before in Alicante. Hart could only watch on helpless in the England goal as the ball flew past him from a most unlikely source.
To compound England’s misery, substitute Cazorla then calmly and skillfully found the corner of the net from Nolito’s pass with six minutes remaining as England appealed in vain for an offside flag.