Gareth Southgate was proud of his players’ display of courage, bravery and quality as England stunned Spain in a Nations League victory that will live long in the memory.
Raheem Sterling ended his 1,102-day wait for an international goal in style in Seville, where he opened the scoring before netting again once Marcus Rashford had fired home.
It was a breathtaking first half that brought back memories of the 5-1 shellacking of Germany in 2001, but Spain rallied and piled on the pressure after the break as substitute Paco Alcacer pulled one back.
Sergio Ramos grabbed another in stoppage time, but England had done enough for to secure a 3-2 victory that underlines the progress being made by the World Cup semi-finalists.
— Kyle Walker (@kylewalker2) October 15, 2018
“I’m just extremely proud of the performance the players have given because the played with huge courage,” Southgate said.
“We knew that to come here and just defend for 90 minutes, you’re unlikely to get a result, so we needed to be brave with the ball.
“We talked about the threat that our front three have and that they need to believe in themselves, but also we then have to get the ball to them.
“We knew today, the way that Spain press, you have to get the first couple of passes out of that press spot on.
“At times, we ran the risk of losing the ball near our goal, but when we got out of that press we were a huge threat in counter attack.
“So, the quality of the play and the bravery of the players was thing that pleased me most.”
This was the first time ever that Spain had conceded three goals in a competitive home match, with the Three Lions running amok during a magnificent first half.
Southgate was proud of the way that Rashford, Harry Kane and Sterling led from the front, with the latter grabbing the most attention after ending his goal drought so impressively.
“It’s not for me to take any credit,” the England boss said of Sterling.
“I think the only thing we did say was when he scores he’ll probably score again – and he managed to do that pretty quickly.
“I’m delighted for him because I don’t think he ever lacked confidence, but I said last night sometimes you get chances and you’re thinking too much.
“I think tonight he just took the chances and was prepared to hit things early.
“But also, his general game was good. He took up some really dangerous pockets of play and got turned and running at the defence.
“Him and Marcus were really diligent with their defending as well, which we needed because you’re never going to dominate the whole game somewhere like this.
“We had to do more than of our share and being compact without the ball was going to be critical.”
England had to dig deep to win their first match in Spain since February 1987 and alleviate the threat of relegation from the Nations League’s top tier.
Jordan Pickford was often in the spotlight in the Group A4 encounter at Real Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarin, where he played a key role in the Three Lions’ opening two goals before almost gifting Spain a way back through his overconfidence.
“We’ve tried to talk to him about having an extra touch because at times when you do that the game opens up for you as a goalkeeper and some of those options become more apparent,” Southgate said of the England goalkeeper.
“So I thought in the two matches he’s had this week, he’s shown real composure to do that, find passes into midfielders.
“He has got the technical ability to do it.
“He maybe hasn’t got the technical ability to do a Cruyff (turn) in his own six-yard box, but that’s something he’ll have to work on at Everton not with us probably.”
Spain were close to snatching a late point, but their dreadful first-half display gave them too much of a mountain to climb.
“The first half, atrocious, it has to be recognised,” head coach Luis Enrique said after his first loss.
“We arrived late pressing, the first goal killed us. We made so many individual errors.
“With 2-0, sitting back and coming out on the break, they are dangerous. A group with two World Cup semi-finalists is not easy.
“Now we continue to depend on ourselves, we have to go to Croatia and win (to win the group).”