Darren Bent played a crucial part in England’s winner as his thumping header crashed against the woodwork, allowing skipper Frank Lampard to nudge the ball over the line. Aside from that attempt on goal, Bent was unable to test goalkeeper Iker Casillas or substitute Pepe Reina at any stage before he was replaced by Danny Welbeck after 60 minutes. Arguably England’s most natural finisher, Bent was marshalled closley by Gerard PiquÃ© and Sergio Ramos. The Aston Villa forward would have benefited from having a strike partner to create space for him to escape the attention of the Spanish centre-halves.
The pair spent two years at Everton together and their understanding is evident, despite Lescott’s move to Manchester City – they were rarely troubled by Spain’s plethora of attacking options. The duo, who were the beneficaries of protection from England’s tireless midfielders, looked more than capable of deputising in the absence of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, displaying excellent decision making. Such was the impressive manner of their performance, by the time Euro 2012 comes around Fabio Capello may opt to use Jagielka or Lescott to partner Terry at the back if Ferdinand’s injury woes continue.
England’s stand-in captain has defied critics time and time again as he nears the end of a career littered with trophies. The 33-year-old, skippering the national side for only the second time, was on hand to score the vital goal to seal England’s first win against Spain in four attempts. Lampard was aided by the energetic performances of Phil Jones and Scott Parker in midfield and while he struggled to find any passing rhythm in the game, he once again showed why he has been one of the most prolific midfielders of the Premier League era.
The injection of new blood into the England team has seen the painful memories of their disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa slowly replaced by a renewed sense of optimism. In the past, the likes of Lampard and Steven Gerrard have failed to replicate their domestic form on the international stage, apparently hindered by the pressure of an expectant nation. Capello has revamped the England side, handing Chris Smalling, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones their first caps, while placing his faith in squad players like Ashley Young and Darren Bent, who are set to become key figures for the national side at Euro 2012. It is refreshing to see the younger members of the squad play without fear and Capello now appears to have the right blend of youth and experience in his side.
The reigning world and European champions have faced two teams ranked in Fifa’s top 10 since August – England and Italy – and have lost on both occasions. They were both friendlies, and while it would be daft to suggest Vicente del Bosque’s side have lost their invincibilityâ€”after all, they romped to the top of their Euro 2012 qualifying group, scoring 26 goalsâ€”it appears Europe’s elite are beginning to calculate how to disrupt Spain’s rhythm. And they do present a sterner test to Del Bosque’s men than those the Spanish faced in qualifying, including Lithuania and Liechtenstein.
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