By 90Min
September 06, 2018

England play Spain in their first taste of the UEFA Nations League on Saturday, which, no matter what Harry Maguire says about Three Lions players being confused by the new tournament, is a more than straightforward and much needed fresh take on international football.


Spain have been a semi-regular international opponent for England over the last few years. The countries have met each other in seven friendlies so far this century, although England's record has generally been poor during that time.

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A 3-0 win over Spain at Villa Park in Sven-Goran Eriksson's very first outing as England boss in 2001 sticks in the memory - a game that saw Michael Ball and Gavin McCann join the Three Lions one-cap wonder club - but they have lost four of their last six games against La Roja.

Only very late goals from Iago Aspas and Isco at Wembley gave Spain a 2-2 draw when they last faced England in November 2016, meaning you have to go back to November 2011, close to seven full years ago, for the last time that England actually managed to beat Spain.

Back then, Spain were at the very peak of their powers as reigning European and World champions and who would also go on to win Euro 2012 just eight months later to further cement themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time.

Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Andres Iniesta and David Villa lined up against England that night. Eight of those had started the 2010 World Cup final and 10 would later start the Euro 2012 final.

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England, meanwhile, were at a fairly low ebb. A year previously Fabio Capello's team had struggled in the World Cup group stage and then been mauled by Germany in the Last 16. They would later exit Euro 2012 on penalties after being thoroughly outplayed by Italy in the quarter finals and eventually finished bottom of their group at the 2014 World Cup.

And it wasn't even a full strength England team that Capello could field to host Spain.

Joe Hart started in goal behind a back three of Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka and a teenage Phil Jones, and Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole as wing-backs. With no Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard played with James Milner and FWA Player of the Year Scott Parker in midfield.

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Theo Walcott supported lone striker Darren Bent of Sunderland.

Spain had been able to bring on Juan Mata and Cesc Fabregas at half-time, while England turned to Stewart Downing. Yet a single goal from Lampard, wearing an unusual number 10 shirt, shortly after the break actually proved to be the winning goal.

Fernando Torres, Carles Puyol and Santi Cazorla all later entered the game for Spain, with England's substitutions nothing special at all. Gareth Barry replaced Lampard, while Kyle Walker and Danny Welbeck played some of their earliest international football.

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Jack Rodwell, who has only just left Sunderland after his career took a complete nosedive, and Adam Johnson, who is currently serving six years behind bars after being convicted of sexual activity with a child, were the other England players to come off the bench that night.

And yet, it was England who won, beating the full strength European and World champions, with no Three Lions side beating the Spanish since. Given England's new found emergence during the summer's World Cup, will this weekend in the UEFA Nations League finally end that run?

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