Defensive set-up avoids Hart attack


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This was the second Saturday in succession that an England team had taken on the world's best at Wembley, but Fabio Capello adopted a very different approach to Steve McNamara, manager of England's rugby league team.

The 13-man boys had taken the game to Australia last weekend, scoring four tries as they put the Kangaroos under unexpected pressure.

Defensive errors, missed conversions and the wrong side of a couple of tight refereeing decisions meant they lost 36-20, but the scoreline was harsh. England were able to take a lot of credit from the match and, in Sam Tomkins, had arguably the best performer. McNamara was able to build on that defeat, England beating New Zealand yesterday to earn a rematch with the Kangaroos in the Four Nations final.

Capello is also looking ahead, to next summer's European Championships, but this was a fixture he had not welcomed. His England, he felt, were not at the right stage of development to take on Spain and a heavy defeat could be damaging.

Thus the experimentation – it provided a ready-made excuse. Thus also the defensive set-up of his team.It looked, as Stan Collymore tweeted early on, a 9-0-1 formation with Darren Bent awfully isolated in attack.

Given this there was logic in the absence of Wayne Rooney. History suggests that unlike the phlegmatic Bent the Manchester United striker would have allowed his frustration at barely getting a touch of the ball to get the better off him. It should be recalled he was substituted for his own good in Madrid a few years ago.

From his lonely positionin the centre circle Bent watched wave after wave of red break on the two banksof white shirts England drew up in front of Joe Hart.

For a long time it looked like a training game, defence versus attack, the more so as the defence (England) gave the ball away within a couple of passes every time they won possession. At one stage in the first period the stats indicated England had a mere 20 per cent of the ball.

Possession may be nine points of football law, but it is goals that win matches. With Joleon Lescott and Scott Parker outstanding, England suffocated the Spanish attack and reached half-time with Hart untroubled.

After England scored the intensity of the match picked up as Spain, by their tackling and increasingly fevered attacking, showed this was no meaningless friendly. Hart was busier, but this was not a story about a goalkeeper having a blinder. It was very similar to Spain's WorldCup defeat in Durban to Switzerland last summer, when Diego Benaglio had a decent but unspectacular game against a Spanish side who were unable to penetrate a deep Swiss defence.

Switzerland, however, did not escape the group in South Africa – when they had to take the initiative in other games they were unable to.

England have more attacking options to call on and the task for Capello is to find a way to harness them without losing yesterday's defensive solidity.