England 2 Spain 2
Two late goals spoiled England's night at Wembley as Spain fought back from 2-0 down in the final seconds to grab a share of the spoils.
It was a disappointing finale to a match that will give the Three Lions and their fans much encouragement at the end of a year that witnessed arguably the nation's lowest moment on a football field, the humiliating defeat to Iceland in the European Championship.
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Five months on from that disastrous evening and England played with an uncharacteristic energy and innovation, which delighted a 83,000 crowd.
Although it was a Spanish side stripped of several stars because of injury, England also had their own absentees but they made light work of them to take the lead on nine minutes with a penalty from Adam Lallana.
His beautifully-judged pass split the visitors' defence and gave Jamie Vardy the opportunity to close in on goal. It took a clumsy challenge from goalkeeper Pepe Reina to stop the Leicester striker and Lallana coolly despatched the spot kick.
England doubled their advantage three minutes into the second-half with Jordan Henderson's cross from the right met by the head of the diving Vardy. England were now in complete control and they remained dominant until the closing stages - when things suddenly unravelled.
First the former Liverpool striker Iago Aspas got a goal back for the Spaniards with a curling shot in the 89th minute, and then deep into stoppage time Isco scrambled home an equaliser, beating keeper Tom Heaton at the near post.
"At times we kept the ball well and were certainly a threat in transition and counter-attack but maybe in the second half we weren't able to keep it quite enough," said interim England boss Gareth Southgate.
"You pay the price. We were fatiguing in the last 20 minutes, and they are a top side. It feels like a defeat for the players but I couldn't be prouder of their efforts. It was a healthy, positive performance. Maybe not winning will be better for us in the long run, knowing what we have to do at this level."
The result, and the manner of the England performance - so much more creative than what the fans have come to expect in recent seasons - should guarantee the promotion of Southgate in the coming days from interim to full-time manager. The 46-year-old is undefeated in the four matches he's overseen since taking over after the sacking of Sam Allardyce in September.
"The players, over the period of the four matches, couldn't have given any more," he said, when asked to reflect on his time in charge. "I feel every situation I've been through, and many have been complex and potential powder kegs, we've coped with very well... More than that, we've built some important stability for the group of players and the team. It's been a brilliant experience for me. I've thoroughly enjoyed working with the players and can see the potential of the group. I took over at a moment of instability for everybody, and we've brought stability back and built a platform for the team."
The Football Association will meet today to appoint a permanent manager, reports The Guardian, and the five-man selection panel is "expected to recommend" that Southgate is offered the manager's job on a four-year contract "with a break clause applicable after the 2018 World Cup".
Southgate avoided making a direct pitch for the job on Tuesday evening but he did state that he believed he'd acquitted himself as interim manager.
"I've not learned anything about myself but I've learned a lot about the role and relished the challenge," he explained. "I've proved I can manage big matches, that I can tactically – with the help of my staff – prepare a team to play against a top side and give them a tough test. I've proved I can handle big occasions."
Rooney out of Spain clash as Southgate explores options
Wayne Rooney has withdrawn from the England squad with a knee injury. In his absence Jordan Henderson will lead the Three Lions in tonight's friendly against Spain at Wembley, an honour he was accorded last month against Slovenia when Rooney was dropped to the bench by Gareth Southgate.
"I don't think we can have just one captain," said the England manager, unfazed by Rooney's withdrawal. "We have several leaders. Too much responsibility has been on Wayne - we need to share that. Once you have a team of those leaders you can have a lot of success."
Harry Kane has already pulled out of the squad and Rooney's absence means that Southgate will be without two of the forwards favoured by his predecessor, Roy Hodgson, last season.
But Southgate - widely expected to be confirmed as England's full-time manager in the coming days - tried to put a positive spin on the situation and said it would allow him to look at other options ahead of their next World Cup qualifying game against Lithuania in March.
"For me, it's an opportunity to build on the way we are playing," replied Southgate, when asked how he would approach tonight's match. "If we don't keep some consistency then we are not building and are starting again almost... we want to build on the last few performances, which I think have improved the detail of how we want to play."
Southgate's counterpart tonight is Julen Lopetegui, a coach who is also finding his feet at international level having been promoted to the senior squad from the Under-21s. Lopetegui took over in July from Vicente del Bosque after he oversaw Spain's disappointing exit to Italy in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championships.
The winners of the 2008 and 2012 tournaments have shaken off that disappointment under Lopetegui and are unbeaten in their last five matches, including a 4-0 thrashing of Macedonia in Saturday's World Cup qualifier.
One of the goalscorers in that game was Aritz Aduriz, the 35-year-old Athletic Bilbao striker who, in finding the net, became the oldest player to score for Spain. Like Jamie Vardy, he's an unfashionable striker but a player who his coach says is an excellent role model. "Aduriz is an example to all that when you care and work passionately, the results come," explained Lopetegui, who is expected to start him against England, although he won't announce his starting XI until later today.
Spain have several players unavailable because of injury, including Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Andres Iniesta and Diego Costa.
One player fit and raring to go is Sergio Busquets, the Barcelona midfielder, who played in the last encounter between the two sides, a 2-0 victory to Spain 12 months ago. "England are a fantastic side full of good players," said Busquets. "Like us, they haven't done so well in tournaments recently. We also haven't played so many games under the new coach and it's a great opportunity for us to fight and battle."
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