Starting a home game as 7-2 underdogs, England belatedly found some bark and bite to shock the world and European champions into an unlikely defeat. Spain, often not at their very best in friendlies – Argentina and Portugal both scored four against them in the recent past – paid the penalty this time for not producing sufficient urgency until they had fallen behind to Frank Lampard's 23rd international goal from a set-piece just after half-time, when they had considerately removed Xavi and David Silva.
The pattern until then was as expected with abundant possession by the Spanish, who in the end had 21 attempts on goal to three. But having scored, England defended resolutely, with Scott Parker in front of the back four and Joleon Lescott both outstanding. Lescott, who was left out of the previous squad against Montenegro, did his future prospects no harm in tandem with his former Everton colleague Phil Jagielka.
Of the younger contingent auditioning for next summer's European Championship finals, Phil Jones and substitutes Jack Rodwell and Danny Welbeck were all singled out for praise by Fabio Capello,who said: "These good young players will be important for the Euros. They played without fear, with personality and here at Wembley, which is important."
Further auditions will be held in Tuesday's friendly against Sweden. Capello confirmed that Daniel Sturridge, Bobby Zamora, Gary Cahill and Kyle Walker will all play, as well as John Terry, who must initially have felt yesterday's game was not a bad one to miss. The prospect of being turned every which way by the passing and movement of Silva, David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Xavi was not an enticing one for a central defender, but Spain were somehow kept at bay. Their manager Vicente del Bosque appeared bemused as to how it had happened and chose to damn England with faint praise.
"They were set up in a very organised manner and defended very deep," he said. "The fact that England got near our goal with only one chance proved that we dominated the game to a great degree. They carried out the manager's orders and tactical plan perfectly. Our style of football is totally different."
It certainly is. In the absence of Terry, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere and Ashley Young for various reasons, it was a victory proving that there is more than one way to win a game, although not one that should have anyone rushing to the bookmakers to plunge on England winning next summer's tournament. Seeded in the second pot, there is a one in four chance they will be drawn against Spain there, when Del Bosque's team would be expected to have learnt at least as much from yesterday's proceedings as Capello's. "We'll learn lessons and be prepared when the big event comes next summer," the Spanish manager warned.
One of the lessons ought to be that keeping the tempo as low as they did in the first half is unproductive. There was a lack or urgency that contributed to a dull 45 minutes after which the applause of the home majority in a capacity crowd smacked mainly of relief at still being level.
The minor surprise in the way England were set up was that Lampard was deeper than expected while Jones in only his second international was often the furthest forward of the central midfield trio. He had been expected to sit in front of the back four trying to disrupt Spain's passing. Instead Parker did that in typically vigorous style, when he was able to get close enough. One drawback of having Lampard further back instead of in the Rooney role behind the main striker was that it was 11 minutes before the isolated Darren Bent touched the ball – with a defensive header to clear the visitors' first corner.
Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal was even less involved until Lampard drove an unthreatening 30-yard shot at him, which by half-time was England's only effort on or off target. One team were disinclined to step up the pace of the game, the other unable to, and the highlights shown on the big screens during the interval did not last long.
All the more out of the blue then was an England goal within four minutes of the restart, which finally brought the game and the crowd to life. Spain had sent on Cesc Fabregas and Chelsea's Juan Mata for Silva and Xavi, as well as Liverpool's Pepe Reina, who must have been stunned that his first involvement was retrieving the ball from his net. Lampard, left all alone, put it there from perhapsa foot out after Bent rose well to meet James Milner's free-kick, heading down and on to a post.
Rodwell, making his internationaldebut, and Gareth Barry then replaced Jones and Lampard and before they had settled Spain made an authentic chance. Sergio Busquets sent Villa clear in the inside-right channel to round Hart but shoot high into the side-netting from an angle.
Reduced to breakaways led by substitutes Welbeck and Adam Johnson, England were desperately close to conceding in the 72nd minute when Glen Johnson's weak header went to Villa, who struck a fierce shot against the far post with Joe Hart beaten. In the final two minutes Fabregas had a deflected shot held low down by Hart and then spoilt his return to London by wasting a glorious chance from Villa's cross.
England (4-5-1): Hart; G Johnson, Jagielka, Lescott, Cole; Walcott (Downing, h-t), Jones (Rodwell, 56), Parker (Walker, 85), Lampard (Barry, 56), Milner (A Johnson, 76); Bent (Welbeck, 63).
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas (Reina, h-t); Arbeloa, Ramos (Puyol, 74), Pique, Alba; Busquets (Torres, 64), Xavi (Fabregas, h-t), Alonso; Silva (Mata, h-t), Villa, Iniesta (Cazorla, 74).
Referee Frank De Bleeckere.
Man of the match Parker (England).
Match rating 6/10.