Depending on which country you are from or where your allegiances lie, this weekend of international games: friendlies and qualifiers, have been successful to uncompromising.
Some teams expertly escaped near defeat (Ukraine v Germany), or ran clinics on opponents that yielded impressive plays and a bevy of goals (Ireland v Estonia), while others earned blank results with underwhelming tactics, defensive pressure and half-hearted execution (Portugal v Bosnia and Herzegovina).
In the case of La Furia Roja’s visit to London this past Saturday, England earned a victory by way of newly appointed skipper Frank Lampard, bringing up the fourth friendly loss for Spain since they hoisted the World Cup Trophy in 2010.
Whether England deserves to be praised or intensively criticized could be a matter of perspective and opinion. The Spanish media trounced the English for playing too defensively, boring, “Italian”; their goal dripping with luck.
Certainly, the Frank Lampard header on the surface looks very lucky, and maybe, the deeper into the aspects of the set piece you go, the luckier it may appear. If Darren Bent’s header had sailed past the woodwork or was blocked by substitute goalkeeper Jose Reina, the English duck maybe never have been broken.
But Bent’s header did find the woodwork, evading Reina, and through quick reflexes and composure, Lampard seized the opportunity. It was a favourable circumstance and you can only applaud Lampard for doing what is expected of him: finishing.
Not only was it lucky for England, but also sloppy defending for Spain.
As soon as Bent’s header glanced off the post, the Spanish defensive line stopped moving forward, leaving Lampard all alone in approach to the wayward ball.Although this was the greatest error in Spain’s performance, they truly dominated the game. They dictated play heavily through the midfield but could not seem to overpower the English, who issued a defensive attacking strategy that was able to exploit few of La Roja's desultory moments.
Fabio Capello’s experimental lineup of young guns and experienced players who in the past have gone flat seemed to be proving a bigger promise than the victory itself. The Englishmen showed admirable discipline that, at times, looked to frustrate the Spaniards who tried relentless to get the ball into the net.
With over twenty goal attempts, Spain was only able to yield 2 shots on goal, their best chances coming in the twenty minutes before the end of play from Villa and Fabregas, who were denied glory by the post and poor aim in an almost humourless irony.
Even Danny Welbeck was impressive, coming from poor performances for Manchester United in the past few weeks. He marked his man expertly and never let the pressure up, while Bent and Milner both kept the ball moving forward and away from the Spaniards.
Perilously, the English midfield would at times almost literally pass the ball to the Spaniards, erasing all the hard work they had just displayed to keep possession but they kept working to ensure, the ball never got past the hands of impressive goalkeeper Joe Hart.
England was able to expose Spain—their almost nonchalant performance ultimately betraying them. And although the Spanish were tactically better on the ball and controlled the run of play, England showed promise that could cement a foundation for a strong European Championship campaign next summer.
England, ranked at number seven in the world by FIFA and one of the top five European teams, had never beaten Spain since FIFA began recording results.
Now, with their first victory over the World Champions under their belt, we are left to wonder whether this victory matters or what it means for the Three Lions. Whether the star the visitors wore on their new Adidas jerseys would be in jeopardy by England or any other Euro qualified team could also be contested.
Certainly they are not—and no Spanish fan feels that—England poses a threat of any sort. Spain’s current friendlies record since summer 2010: a loss to Portugal, Italy, Argentina, and now England, may not be a testament to their amazing affinity for victory these days.Portugal, Italy, Argentina, and England are all top ranked teams, and Spain is still putting on the stronger performance with nothing to lose where it really matters.
The Spanish were once a team who always won friendlies, but could never transfer the victories where it counts. Now the tide has turned, and the Spanish win Championships when their friendly record suffers. But I’m sure any nation would rather have a Championship than a sterling friendlies record.
Nevertheless, for humbled teams with a long way to go like England, a victory in a friendly and strong defensive performance can mean a lot, and should mean a lot, to the team and its fans.
Wembley taught us that you do not have to play beautiful soccer to get the desired result. It taught us that even if you play against a starting squad that is 80 percent in-form World Cup Champions, the script has not been fully written.
Results come when you take the initiative and the opportunity. The victory of Wembley shows us that England can be determined and successfully defensive with young upstarts willing to go higher and run harder for a ball than their opponent.
Sometimes, you just have to accept the circumstance of fortune or chance, even if it is not in your favour and keep at it. The result at Wembley on Saturday will mean different things to different people, and hopefully its implication will not be lost on Capello and his squad when Sweden come to call.