England suffered their first loss in over 16 months as two sublime strikes from Mario Gaspar and Santi Cazorla were enough for Spain in Alicante.
It took 72 minutes for Vicente del Bosque’s side to break the deadlock, but for the Spanish it was one to savour – a superb piece of acrobatic skill from Mario which left Joe Hart with no chance.
Santi Cazorla made it two with eight minutes left and gave England the taste of defeat that they have not experienced for a while.
Spain 2-0 England
Estadio Jose Rico Perez, Alicante
Friday 13 November 2015
Both teams came into the game having secured safe passage to France 2016 as their group winners, but while the Three Lions had won all their games, Spain dropped points in a defeat by Slovakia.
However, neither side was looking back with a major tournament on the horizon and a chance to test themselves against fellow hopefuls.
Spain, of course, were champions at Euro 2012 so know what will be required in their preparations for next summer and, like England, will be keen to put right their group stage exit from the World Cup in Brazil.
Roy Hodgson wanted his team to take on top-class nations and during a tight match he will have seen possession dominated by the opposition, something they have not been used to during qualifying.
But time on the ball did not necessarily equate to more goalscoring opportunities for the Spanish, who were playing in front of a packed house in Alicante, particularly in the first period. Both sides could, and probably should, have found the net before the break.
While the home side had chances through Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Paco Alcacer – which all went wide of Joe Hart’s right-hand post – England also gave Iker Casillas something think about in front of the travelling fans at the other end.
Raheem Sterling was a threat down the left and on more than one occasion delivered an inviting ball across the face of the Spain goal, while one from Ryan Bertrand almost resulted in Harry Kane opening the scoring.
However, his turn and shot had the sting taken out of it and it was easy for the Porto captain, making a record 165th appearance for his country.
Spain immediately countered and Diego Costa was presented with a chance to the left of the England box. He looked up and curled an effort towards the far post, but once again it was off target.
Fabian Delph’s grasscutter from distance, shortly after the Manchester City midfielder had received a hefty whack to his foot, tested Casillas, who gathered at the second attempt, but Kane then had a chance on the stroke of half-time that deserved better.
A neat passing move that took England into the Spain box ended with the ball at the feet of the Tottenham Hotspur striker 16 yards out, but under pressure he rush his shot, scuffing it wide of the post.
The second half continued in similar fashion as England played on the break. Nolito, on for Andres Iniesta, and Jordi Alba, both tested Hart but he remained strong as the visitors kept the Spanish at bay.
Meanwhile Hodgson handed a debut to Eric Dier as the 21-year-old Tottenham came on in midfield in the second half.
The England fans did think they had a goal midway through the period when Kane’s powerful strike from 25 yards hit the back of the net, but it was from a rebound off the advertising hoardings after his shot arrow narrowly wide.
But with no side willing to give anything away cheaply, it needed something special to finally open the scoring. And how.
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas clipped a high ball forward to Mario on the edge of the box with 72 minutes played and it looked too difficult for the Villarreal right-back to do anything with. That was until he spun, leapt and sent a jaw-dropping volley looping beyond Joe Hart and into the corner of the net.
It was a goal to win any game, but it got slightly better for Spain 12 minutes later when Santi Cazorla’s pinpoint placement left Hart stranded – the Arsenal man bending a side-foot pass from 20 yards in off the post.
Wayne Rooney and Kane had efforts to reduce the arrears in the closing stages as Michael Carrick was carried off, but in the end an organised England team were undone but two wonderful pieces of skill and their 15-game unbeaten run comes to an end.
Spain (4-1-2-1-2): 1 Iker Casillas (Porto); 24 Mario Gaspar (Villarreal), 3 Gerard Pique (Barcelona), 4 Marc Bartra (Barcelona), 18 Jordi Alba (Barcelona); 5 Sergio Busquets (Barcelona); 14 Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), 6 Andres Iniesta (Barcelona); 10 Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea); 9 Paco Alcacer (Valencia), 19 Diego Costa (Chelsea).
Substitutes: 20 Santi Cazorla (Arsenal) for Thiago 27, 21 Nolito (Celta Vigo) for Iniesta ht, 13 Juan Mata (Manchester United) for Costa 63, 11 Pedro (Chelsea) for Paco Alcacer 74, 8 Koke (Atletico Madrid) for Busquets 78, 2 Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea) for Bartra 82.
Substitutes not used: 12 David de Gea (Manchester United), 23 Sergio Rico (Sevilla), 7 Alvaro Morata (Juventus), 15 Nacho (Real Madrid), 16 Oscar de Marcos (Athletic Bilbao), 17 Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao).
Goals: Mario Gaspar 71, Cazorla 83.
Head coach: Vicente del Bosque.
England (4-2-3-1-): 1 Joe Hart (Manchester City); 2 Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur), 5 Phil Jones (Manchester United), 6 Chris Smalling (Manchester United, 3 Ryan Bertrand (Southampton); 4 Michael Carrick (Manchester United), 8 Fabian Delph (Manchester City); 7 Adam Lallana (Liverpool), 9 Ross Barkley (Everton),11 Raheem Sterling (Manchester City); 10 Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur).
Substitutes: 15 Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur) for Lallana 63, 20 Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur) for Carrick 63, 19 Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) for Barkley 73, 16 Gary Cahill (Chelsea) for Smalling 84, 18 Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City) for Carrick 91.
Substitutes not used: 13 Jack Butland (Stoke City), 21 Tom Heaton (Burnley), 12 Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), 14 John Stones (Everton), 17 Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal).
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Referee: Paulo Silvio Mazzoleni (Italy)
Assistant referees: Allesandro Constanzo and Fabiano Preti (Italy)
Fourth official: Juan Martinez Munuera (Spain).