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England 2-2 Spain: Three Lions Suffer From Late Isco Fever!
It may only be November, but England’s year of football has officially come to an end tonight with an entertaining 2-2 home friendly draw with Spain. In case you have been living in a cave for the last 12 months, 2016 started with Roy Hodgson as the manager, with the Three Lions impressively beating old rivals (ironically with a young team!) Germany in March, with a 3-2 comeback away victory giving hope to a successful Euros. Unfortunately, that March display against the Germans inspired false hope, as Roy Hodgson was the first of three managers to take the reigns of the national side.
There’s no need to relive what happened over the summer in France, but Sam Allardyce was handed the job after Iceland left the FA feeling cold about Hodgson. Fast forward 67 days and Allardyce was on his was on his way, after burning his fingers under the table of a restaurant. This meant ‘the interim one’ in the form of Gareth Southgate was ushered in from the Under-21s, taking control of four audition games, climaxing in the four-goal draw with the Spanish under the Wembley arch. The year began with an impressive friendly performance and concludes with a satisfactory friendly display against two top teams and last two World Cup winners. But it is in tournaments where England need to improve if Southgate gets the full-time position and wants to go down in history for the right reasons.
Vardy rises to the Mannequin Challenge!
The encounter with Spain followed an important 3-0 win over Scotland on Friday night, as England maintained their place at the top of their World Cup qualifying group with a treble of headers defeating the Auld enemy at Wembley. Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana has been bouncing more than that dog on the trampoline from the John Lewis Christmas advert in recent games, with the former Southampton man scoring against the Scots and hitting the back of the net against the Spanish. Lallana put a perfect ball in for Jamie Vardy, who was tripped by former Anfield number one Pepe Reina, with the Napoli goalkeeper lucky not to see red. 28-year-old Lallana clinically smashed in the penalty, before having to be withdrawn with injury. But this was a cameo from the Kop favorite to rival that of Marvel creator Stan Lee’s in Doctor Strange. Jurgen Klopp will have his fingers crossed he can magically recover in time for Saturday’s trip to St Mary’s to face his former club.
Although, Leicester striker Vardy – who won the spot kick – was himself fortunate to still be on the pitch, having put in a late, high tackle early on in the match. 29-year-old Vardy ended a 14-game goalless strike with the second goal for the English in the second-half, as the Foxes frontman bullet header from captain Jordan Henderson’s cross put the Three Lions in control. However, much more memorable than Vardy’s finish was the impromptu celebration which followed, as he integrated the ‘Mannequin Challenge’, with Vardy, Theo Walcott, and Raheem Sterling all freezing like mannequins, taking part in the internet craze which has swept the world. Although taking part in the mannequin challenge can make you look like a bit of a ‘dummy’, if you do not end up winning.
A bit like Hillary Clinton last week, who also participated in the craze, England surprisingly threw away victory when it was still in their hands. A lesson has been learned, like Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew in the FA Cup final in the same venue earlier this year, do not celebrate too early in an embarrassing way! Vardy will hope now that his drought is over, he can get back to his ways of last season in front of goal for Leicester in the league, as he would not want to reportedly disappoint Prince Harry’s new actress girlfriend – Meghan Markle – in the film of his life.
Spain upped their game in the second period, with their substitutes making the desired impact for 50-year-old Julen Lopetegui’s men. New boss Lopetegui brought on Real Madrid duo Alvaro Morata and Isco, while also bringing on Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas. These changes made the difference, with the Spanish reducing the deficit in the 89th minute thanks to a curling Aspas effort past Burnley keeper Tom Heaton. I thought the defense was recreating the mannequin challenge at this point, with Spain penetrating the England back-line so easily late in the game, as Aspas beat John Stones to fire into the top corner. Moments later and the Three Lions were in ‘freeze position’ again, with Real midfielder Isco slotting a precise volley through Heaton’s legs in the 96th minute, with five minutes of stoppage time originally held up on the official’s board. Former Malaga man Isco – who has been linked with a January switch to Tottenham – spoiled the part for Vardy and Southgate, as his goal was one of the last kicks of the encounter. Isco’s late equalizer confirmed that 2-0 up is always the most dangerous scoreline when facing an opposition who can score out of nothing.
Southgate made to Wait!
Most areas of the media, pundits and players assumed Gareth Southgate would have got the permanent job after beating Scotland on Friday, but the FA have made the former Middlesbrough manager wait to which parking space he will have for his car. Southgate won two and drew two of his four-game interim spell, which means the FA are under pressure to give him the full-time role in time to face Germany in Dortmund on 22nd March 2017. The friendly in four months time gives the FA enough leeway to make the right call, but the 3-0 win over their near neighbours last week seemed to be good enough to pass the audition. However, the match programme notes for the Spain game seemed to give out mixed messages by FA chairman Greg Clarke over his future, who ‘thanked Gareth’ for what he had done with the national side. Usually, when a boss is thanking you for your work, that also often means ‘goodbye’.
There is the Under-21s tournament next summer, so Southgate wants a decision about his future by Christmas. That would be the perfect gift for Southgate, if Greg Clarke were to climb down his chimney dressed in a red suit and hand him the permanent post to manage the Three Lions in the new year. He has showed why he is the right man over the last four England games, but nothing should be assumed in this unpredictable year of years, with it now seemingly possible that even Donald Trump could get such a role.
Spain’s Iago is Othello Debutant!
Iago was the villain of the piece in the Shakespeare play ‘Othello’, which was first performed in November 1604 in London, fast forward 412 years and former Liverpool forward Iago Aspas contributed to England failing to defeat Spain in the same UK capital city. Aspas was actually part of the Liverpool squad that went close to winning the Premier League back in 2014, but has since revitalised his career back in La Liga with Celta Vigo. It was the perfect way to complete his senior debut for Spain at the age of 29, as he took his chance while Chelsea striker Diego Costa missed the match with injury. There were a lot of current and former Liverpool players central to this draw, with Lallana, Reina, Aspas, Sterling, Nathaniel Clyne and Henderson all involved for the respective countries. England handed a debut to Liverpool-born West Ham full-back Aaron Cresswell, while Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera was a fellow debutant for Spain, along with goal-scorer Aspas and the inexperienced back-line La Roja was forced to put out.
Homepage photo credit: strollers [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons