England. . .0
ENGLAND travelled in search of a restorative win and a new, attractive style of play, but return nursing their first defeat in Spain since 1960 and still apparently light years away from the successful, settled side Graham Taylor yearns for.
Instead of years, they have less than five weeks to find one. Norway, who launched their World Cup campaign with a startling 10-0 drubbing of San Marino, will come to Wembley on 14 October in possession of the high ground in qualifying Group Two.
Spain are also rebuilding after failing to reach the finals of the European Championship. Their manager, Javier Clemente, had promised 'a new direction', and was delighted with the deserved victory secured by Gregorio Fonseca's 11th minute goal.
Sixteen previous matches between the two countries had produced 10 England wins to the Spaniards' four, so Santander was in celebratory mood.
For Taylor, yet again, it is back to the drawing board. His new, adventurous 4-2-4 was born of the best intentions, but England were overrun in midfield, where David Platt and Paul Ince were heavily outnumbered by Spain's conventional 4-4-2.
The four-man front line was starved of possession - wingers marginalised, strikers isolated. The team was too compartmentalised, with little or no co-ordination between defence and midfield or the middlemen and the forwards.
The third defeat of Taylor's 25- match managership, and the second in succession, would have been much heavier had Spain finished as voraciously as they foraged for the ball.
Their new defence, featuring three of their gold medal-winning Olympic side, were rough and tough, allowed by weak refereeing to take no prisoners, and in Roberto Solozabal they have unearthed a new hatchet man to rival the Andoni Goicoechea of old.
England began promisingly enough, and might have scored after only two minutes, when Nigel Clough caught Spain square with one of those perceptive little through passes which are his stock-in-trade. David White, clear in what we used to call the inside-left channel, advanced confidently, but wasted an inviting opportunity by shooting against Zubizarreta's legs.
England might also have had an early penalty, the referee somehow missing the first of Solozabal's many assaults, on Mark Wright.
Spain were brighter and quicker in all phases, and their pace, which was to cause problems throughout, was first evident when Martin Vasquez's cross from the left saw Fonseca dart in at the near post for a close-range shot which Chris Woods was happy to shepherd into the side netting.
The reprieve was only temporary. With 11 minutes gone, Des Walker lost possession in midfield, enabling Martin Vasquez to try his luck from 25 yards. Luck was the word. The shot hit Fonseca just inside the penalty area, becoming a pass which the striker from Espanol lifted over Wood's head with unhurried expertise.
Spain should have had a second goal after 19 minutes, when Martin Vasquez took a return pass from Bakero and shot tamely into the side netting from 10 yards.
After half an hour it was all too obvious that England were in deep trouble, and Michel, that crafty and experienced midfielder from Real Madrid, might have inflicted further damage with a deft chip from the right which carried over Woods's head, but ran tantalisingly wide of the far post. Vizcaino, too, was uncomfortably close, and Fonseca should have scored with a free header from six yards. The tide was flowing against England and changes were needed at half-time. Plan A had been to get as much of the ball as possible to Alan Shearer, but it was not working.
Initially, Taylor tinkered with the nuts and bolts rather than overhauling his team, introducing David Bardsley for his first cap in place of Lee Dixon, who had been injured in a collision with Woods.
The full-back's debut was to last just 18 minutes before he, too, retired hurt. It was that sort of night.
England's forwards existed throughout on starvation rations, Shearer doing well to get his head to a long cross from the left from Andy Sinton, although he was unable to summon the accuracy needed to test Spain's experienced goalkeeper.
Poor Clough had neither the support nor the supply to impose himself, and the service to, and from, the wingers was sporadic, at best.
England's only chance to salvage something from another disappointing performance came 20 minutes into the second half, when Carlton Palmer, on for Bardsley, set up White for a low shot which was blocked.
Taylor bridled at the suggestion that it had been a 'dismal' showing, and said his team deserved to be supported, but the abiding impression is that he does not have a team - rather a random selection of ill-matched individuals.
SPAIN: Zubizarreta (Barcelona); Ferrer (Barcelona), Toni (Atletico Madrid) Solozabal (Atletico Madrid), Lopez (Atletico Madrid), Vizcaino (Atletico Madrid), Fonseca (Espanol), Michel (Real Madrid), Bakero (Barcelona), Martin Vasquez (Marseille), Amor (Barcelona). Substitutes: Fernando (Valencia) for Fonseca, 49; Cristobal (Oviedo) for Toni, 59; Goicoechea (Barcelona), 66; Alvaro (Valencia) for Martin Vasquez, 82.
ENGLAND: Woods (Sheffield Wednesday); Dixon (Arsenal), Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Ince (Manchester United), Walker (Sampdoria), Wright (Liverpool), White (Manchester City), Platt (Juventus), Clough (Nottingham Forest), Shearer (Blackburn Rovers), Sinton (Queen's Park Rangers). Substitutes: Bardsley (QPR) for Dixon, h/t; Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday) for Bardsley, 64; Deane (Sheffield United) for White, 78; Merson (Arsenal) for Sinton, 78.
Referee: J Alberto-Veiga (Portugal).
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