Spain 2-3 England: Gareth Southgate needed a statement win - and he got one

Raheem Sterling scored his first England goals in 27 games
Raheem Sterling scored his first England goals in 27 games

England's form post World Cup has been an anti-climax since they returned home as heroes after reaching their first semi-final for 28 years - they needed to make a statement in Seville.

And they did it in historic and dramatic fashion as they won in Spain for the first time since 1987 after a thrilling 3-2 Uefa Nations League victory that inflicted the hosts' first home loss in competitive action for 15 years.

So how significant, in the wider context of England's future and manager Gareth Southgate's development, was this landmark victory?

Southgate's biggest win?

Gareth Southgate has craved a win against a member of the world elite - even the run to the last four in Russia did not bring that and it was a box that has not been ticked by his England team.

Yes, the World Cup brought a measure of heroism but it was also a cold fact that when meeting countries with real quality, twice against Belgium and in the semi-final against Croatia, England came up short and lost.

Under Southgate, England had played Spain twice before this win, losing and drawing, while they had also failed to record wins in two games against Germany and in meetings with Italy, Brazil and France.

Southgate's England, the record suggested, were not exactly flat track bullies but did not have enough when the best opposition asked them what they had.

There was a psychological hurdle to overcome and the events of a chaotic, spectacular night in stormy Seville may just be the lift England required.

Spain were on a high under new coach Luis Enrique, as proved by the sight of around 15,000 locals inside the Estadio Benito Villamarin for their final training session.

The pressure was on England after average displays in the 2-1 Nations League loss to Spain at Wembley in September and in the narrow friendly win over Switzerland at Leicester as well as in the Nations League draw behind closed doors in Croatia on Friday.

England and Southgate needed a statement win not just for now but for the future - so the significance of emerging victorious from a country that has become a football fortress cannot be under-estimated.

And Southgate's players delivered the bravery their manager demanded, in attack in the first-half when two-goal Raheem Sterling, the other scorer Marcus Rashford and the brilliantly under-stated Harry Kane, tormented Spain.

There was even an early indication that England meant business when Eric Dier cleaned out Spain hard man and all-round arch villain Sergio Ramos, who was unceremoniously flattened with a fair challenge that brought a harsh yellow card.

If England were brave in attack in establishing a three-goal lead before the break, they showed courage (albeit with a liberal sprinkling of nervous moments) to protect it as Spain surged back.

On every level this was the performance and result Southgate and England needed to tap back into the summer of goodwill and build on that World Cup momentum.

This "I Was There" night may come to be regarded as more important in the long-term than even those World Cup victories in Russia because of what England have proved to themselves and what Southgate has learned about his players.

Now comes the hardest part - proving this can be the rule rather than the exception.

England's young generation come of age

Harry Kane provided assists for both Rashford and Sterling
Harry Kane provided assists for both Rashford and Sterling

This vast bowl of a stadium in Seville was plunged into total darkness by a brief power cut minutes after the final whistle - and it was England who provided the biggest surge of electricity in that stunning first 45 minutes.

Southgate trusted in youth in the absence of suspended John Stones and Jordan Henderson as he fielded England's youngest starting XI since 1959 with an average age of just over 23.

Joe Gomez, Liverpool's 21-year-old defender and Tottenham midfield man Harry Winks, just 22, came in and excelled.

And the fearlessness of youth was a key factor in the manner in which England stood toe-to-toe with the illustrious Spaniards and came out on top after a torrid opening phase.

Spain seemed shocked at England's refusal to take a backward step as the pace of Sterling and Rashford, allied to the sheer excellence and physical power of Kane, tore huge holes in a defence overseen by the normally peerless master Ramos.

There was an exuberance about England in attack that has been rarely seen under Southgate and youth was its calling card, with Sterling still only 23 and Rashford 20.

Ben Chilwell, 21, was once again composed at left-back while Watford's Nathaniel Chalobah was given the briefest of tastes of senior action with a full debut at 23.

And, watching from the bench and no doubt taking in every second of this eventful night making mental notes, were teenagers Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount, as well as 21-year-old James Maddison.

It was a 97-minute crash course in the emotions and stresses of international football and will have been an invaluable experience for England's players of the future both on and off the pitch.

And, amid all this, England came away with a victory to remember.

Sterling claims the victory

Raheem Sterling scored England's first with a fine finish past David De Gea
Raheem Sterling scored England's first with a fine finish past David De Gea

Sterling has attracted plenty of attention in Spain as Real Madrid are listed as potential suitors while contract talks with Manchester City continue.

City expect to sort that situation but Sterling was certainly the talk of Seville after his finest performance for England.

The forward has faced plenty of questions - many of them asked here - about his three-year goal drought stretching back 27 games before this one.

It was not good enough and had to be remedied. No-one doubted his talent and application but where was the crucial end product?

Well here it was in all its glory and Sterling deserves every plaudit that will rightly come his way.

Sterling's pace terrorised Spain but the glorious bonus was the two goals that doubled his tally from 45 previous England appearances.

The first was a rising drive taken nervelessly without hesitation, flashing high past David de Gea, and the second had the poacher's touch to put England 3-0 up. It was a complete display.

If this was a landmark night for England and Gareth Southgate, Sterling may end up feeling exactly the same way.