Spain 2-3 England: Raheem Sterling's best game? New hope for Three Lions?

Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling has now scored four England goals - as many as Steve Bull, Nick Barmby and Darren Bent

Was this the moment that the Nations League went from "the most senseless competition in football" to earning a place in the hearts of England fans everywhere?

Few expected much from Gareth Southgate's side as they travelled to take on Spain in Seville on Monday, but instead the Three Lions were 3-0 up before half-time and on their way to a historic win at Estadio Benito Villamarin.

Spain had never before conceded three goals in a competitive home fixture, while Southgate - despite his World Cup heroics - had never before beaten an 'elite' side.

So, less than 100 days after the semi-final defeat by Croatia, is the future bright for England? Again?

Sterling's best day yet?

Central to England's clinical first-half display was Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who ended an 1,102-day goal drought on the international stage with a fine opener, burying Marcus Rashford's pass for his first goal for England since 2015.

Sterling had had 34 shots for England between goals, hitting the target with just four attempts, but soon had his second of the night from Harry Kane's knock-down.

Former England captain Terry Butcher said on BBC Radio 5 live that the game was "comfortably Sterling's best in an England shirt", with the 23-year-old revealing after the match that he had changed his approach.

He said: "There is nothing better than scoring in an England shirt.

"It was a beautiful feeling to score. I put pressure on myself - it's my position to score goals. It means a lot to me. Three years is a long time not to score.

"As a forward you go through patches but I am now forgetting about looking nice, and just focusing on getting in behind and causing havoc."

Aside from his goals, no England player made more passes in the Spain half (16) and only Tottenham pair Kieran Tripper and Harry Winks had more touches of the ball than his 46.

'Exceptional' England stop Spain

Winners of the 2008 and 2012 European Championship, with the 2010 World Cup sandwiched in between, Spain have a recent history of being serial winners. They just do not like losing.

Aside from their exit on penalties against hosts Russia at the World Cup in the summer, their last defeat in a competitive match came against Italy in the knockout stages of Euro 2016.

Then Southgate and his boys came along.

England rattled Spain by becoming the first side to put three goals past them in a competitive home international, while ending their 38-game unbeaten run on their own patch stretching back to 2003.

The Three Lions also recorded their first victory away against Spain since February 1987, when Gary Lineker scored all four goals in a 4-2 win.

Spanish football expert Guillem Balague told BBC Radio 5 live: "This is verging on exceptional for England - they have success at the youth ages and they now have a style of play, they now have a clear selection policy.

"Even without Jordan Henderson and John Stones they don't look worried, they look comfortable."

New players, new hope?

Gareth Southgate has talked up England's next generation of players and while he avoided the temptation to introduce them en masse, his line-up against Spain had an average age of just over 23.

It represented England's youngest team for a competitive fixture since 1959 and the likes of Winks and Joe Gomez both repaid his faith.

With Liverpool's 28-year-old captain Henderson suspended along with Manchester City's Stones, Winks, 22, and Gomez, 24 stepped into the breach.

Henderson, who has played in four major tournaments, has earned 47 caps, while Stones has 36. In comparison, this was only Winks' second appearance and a world away from his debut against Lithuania over a year ago, while Gomez was collecting just his fifth cap.

Neither let Southgate down. Winks had the second most touches of any England player, while the Liverpool defender looked composed in defence, adding to fine performances against Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands.

At 23, there is also the promise that Sterling - one of the side's most experienced performers as he closes in on his 50th cap - and Marcus Rashford, 20, who has scored three goals in his past four starts, can offer a speedy foil to Kane.

"The squad is fresher, it's younger, the players believe in Southgate, there's something different about this squad but we've still got good players like Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard to come back," said Butcher.

Top Stories