Frank Lampard headed England to a 1-0 victory over Spain despite the world and European champions outplaying the hosts for most of Saturday’s friendly at Wembley Stadium.
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Captain on his 90th England appearance, Lampard netted four minutes into the second half, meeting the loose ball after Darren Bent’s header came off the post.
”It was a difficult game, but we played well and maintained our style,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. ”Although, maybe we lacked depth at times, we played well I thought.”
It is the latest setback for Spain in a friendly against a leading side, with Del Bosque’s side also losing to Argentina, Portugal and Italy since winning the 2010 World Cup.
Technically, the Spanish were superior and in complete control in London, but they squandered a series of chances to equalize after falling behind.
David Villa hit the post and Cesc Fabregas came close twice in the closing minutes.
Beating the European champions will boost morale in the England camp ahead of Euro 2012 after missing out on the 2008 tournament and then performing dismally at the World Cup.
”It’s great to beat them now – they are the best team in the world,” Lampard said. ”We won’t get carried away over the fact we beat them. Let’s be realistic, they dominated the game.”
Indeed, England struggled to retain the ball, with Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas having a quiet 45 minutes on the pitch as he matched his country’s appearance record.
Like goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta from 1985 to 1998, Casillas has featured 126 times for Spain – and he is still only 30.
The first shot the captain had to face didn’t come until the 32nd minute when Lampard struck tamely straight at Casillas.
With England packing the defense, it took Spain until the 36th to come close to Joe Hart’s goal, with Sergio Busquets flicking over.
Among Spain’s three changes at halftime, Casillas’ place was taken by Pepe Reina. And the substitute goalkeeper’s first act was picking the ball out of his net after Lampard’s opener.
A flowing start to the half saw England earn a free kick on the left flank, which James Milner whipped into a crowded penalty area.
Bent’s header bounced off the post, with Reina’s dive missing the ball, and the rebound fell to the unmarked Lampard to nod into the net.
Lampard was captain after center back John Terry was dropped to the bench, a move coach Fabio Capello insisted was not due to the ongoing police investigation over alleged racism.
A chance for Spain to equalize was squandered when David Villa latched onto a defense-splitting pass but rounded Hart too far and hit the sidenetting with an off-balance shot in the 55th.
The Spanish kept up the pressure but lacked ruthlessness in front of goal. Scott Parker was also snuffing out many of their attacks, including blocking Fabregas’ attempt to square to Gerard Pique in the 82nd.
Fabregas came close himself, though, on his return to London after leaving Arsenal in August. The Barcelona midfielder, on the turn, had a shot saved by Hart after Phil Jagielka’s intervention took the sting out of the attempt, then swept the ball wide within a minute.
England earned the victory without star striker Wayne Rooney. Capello assessed Danny Welbeck and Bent in preparation for Rooney missing the three Euro 2012 group stage matches after being banned by UEFA.