England failed to build on the momentum of reaching the World Cup semi-finals to begin their Nations League campaign as Spain came from behind to win 2-1 at Wembley in Luis Enrique’s first game in charge.
Gareth Southgate couldn’t have asked for a better start in England’s first game since returning from Russia as Marcus Rashford swept the hosts into an early lead.
But Spain, who crashed out in the last 16 of a chaotic World Cup after firing coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament, punctured the feel-good factor surrounding the Three Lions by hitting back through Saul Niguez and Rodrigo before half-time.
Worse was to come for England as Luke Shaw had to be stretchered off early in the second half with a worrying looking head injury. But only three stunning saves from David de Gea and a controversial decision to rule out Danny Welbeck’s late strike denied Southgate’s men at least a point.
England captain Harry Kane was presented with his Golden Boot for being top scorer at the World Cup amid a buoyant atmosphere before kick-off that continued with a fast start from the hosts, thanks in large part to the unfortunate Shaw.
Kane released Shaw free down the left on 11 minutes and his teasing cross curled perfectly into the path of Rashford to slot past United team-mate De Gea. However, the England fans had barely retaken their seats by the time Spain levelled two minutes later.
Enrique had called for La Roja to be more direct than the pedestrian sides that have crashed out early in the past three major tournaments. And the former Barcelona boss got what he wanted as purposeful bursts from Dani Carvajal and Rodrigo teed up Saul for his first international goal.
England’s strength at set-pieces was one of the key factors for their success at the World Cup, but they were easily outdone for the winner by a simple Thiago Alcantara free-kick that Rodrigo slotted home at the near post.
De Gea had been labelled as one of the main culprits for his side’s poor showing in Russia as he made just one save in the whole competition.
However, the United ‘keeper produced the sort of stunning save he does routinely at club level to deny Rashford an instant equaliser with a powerful header from point-blank range.
The second period had barely begun when Shaw suffered a sickening blow to the head as he clashed with Carvajal.
De Gea was extremely fortunate to be awarded a foul deep into stoppage time when he spilled a looping clearance from Sergio Ramos and Welbeck slotted into an unguarded net.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)