Mario inspires Spain to victory

Mario Gaspar’s wonder goal inspired Spain to an eventual 2-0 victory over England in Friday’s Alicante friendly.

The back five picked themselves, starting with Iker Casillas, Mario Gaspar and Jordi Alba at full-back and Barcelona teammates Marc Bartra and Gerard Pique partnering each other in central defence following Sergio Ramos’ shoulder injury.

However, it was in midfield where the selections came under scrutiny on social media as Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta took up the wide berths, while a two-man strike force saw Paco Alcacer and Diego Costa paired together.

England, meanwhile, were without captain Wayne Rooney and reported Real Madrid target Jamie Vardy but still went with an XI boasting the likes of Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane in attack.

The first half failed to present too much in the way of chances, but it could be argued that England had the better openings as Sterling was released down the left on several occasions, although neither Kane nor Barkley had their shooting boots on.

At the other end, Spain did a fine job in eliminating Michael Carrick from England’s game, resulting in plenty of the ball in midfield areas, but they were dealt a blow when Thiago Alcantara was forced off with a knock in just the 27th minute.

They had chances of their own, too, Costa most notably curling a floated effort inches wide of Joe Hart’s far post and Alcacer coming a whisker away from guiding an angled finish home and then flicking a corner past the Manchester City goalkeeper.

Spain brought on Nolito for the second half and the Celta Vigo star almost made an instant impact as his pinpoint cross was met with an air shot from Alcacer, while he supplied a backheel for Alba to smash at Hart’s near post on the overlap.

Their switch to 4-3-3 via Juan Mata’s introduction for Costa was the final piece of the jigsaw for La Roja to realise their attacking potential, yet their opener came from right-back Mario, who marked his second goal in as many international appearances with a spectacular scissor kick from the edge of the box, which looped over a statuesque Hart.

Spain then clinched the win with another fine finish, when Fabregas beat Phil Jones to a header, allowing Nolito to lay off Santi Cazorla for a perfectly-executed finish, stroking the ball past the English custodian at pace.

England, meanwhile, had Wayne Rooney fire a volley onto the crossbar and Casillas keep out Kane’s close-range finish at the death, but their failure was exacerbated by a potential injury to Michael Carrick, who departed on a stretcher in stoppage time.

Spain 2-0 England

Mario 72, Cazorla 84

Spain: Casillas; Mario, Bartra (Azpilicueta 82), Pique, Alba; Cesc, Busquets (Koke 78), Thiago (Cazorla 27), Iniesta (Nolito 46); Alcacer (Pedro 74), Costa (Mata 64)

England: Hart; Walker, Smalling (Cahill 84), Jones, Bertrand; Carrick (Shelvey 90), Delph (Alli 63); Sterling, Barkley (Rooney 73), Lallana (Dier 63); Kane

Referee: Mazzoleni [ITA]

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