Seville: Gareth Southgate believes England’s attack answered their critics on Monday by scoring three goals in a whirlwind first half against Spain.
Raheem Sterling hit two either side of a clinical finish from Marcus Rashford, while Harry Kane was heavily involved too, providing a pair of excellent assists in the 3-2 victory in Seville.
Spain had never conceded three goals at home before half-time and while Paco Alcacer pulled one back, England’s win was secure by the time Sergio Ramos headed in with the game’s final touch.
Sterling, Rashford and Kane have all faced criticism in recent weeks. Sterling had not scored for England in three years — 1,102 days to be exact — while Kane’s international drought now stands at seven matches.
Rashford, meanwhile, was guilty of spurning two golden chances against Croatia on Friday.
“All three of them understandably had questions asked and all three responded with real top performances,” Southgate said.
“We could play off them, retain the ball. Their speed was the obvious threat but the decision-making, passing, and finishing was top quality.”
The scrutiny on Sterling’s performances for England has been particularly intense but Southgate had backed the 23-year-old to rediscover his scoring touch.
“It’s not for me to take any credit, the only thing we did say is when he scores, he will score again and he managed to do so pretty quickly,” Southgate said.
“I don’t think he ever lacked confidence. Sometimes you get chances and think too much. Tonight he took the chances, he was prepared to hit the thing early.”
England kept alive their hopes of finishing top of their Uefa Nations League group and this performance was their best since Southgate took charge.
It was perhaps even their most impressive result since thrashing Germany 5-1 in Munich in 2001.
Spain arrived on the back of three convincing wins under their new coach Luis Enrique, including one over England at Wembley, and had scored 12 goals in the process.
“They will gain huge belief from what they’ve done,” Southgate added. “As a team, to play the way they did, this can be a great reference point for them for the future.”
The defeat not only burst the bubble of optimism surrounding new coach Luis Enrique, it also dredged up unpleasant memories of their woeful World Cup campaign in Russia.
“The doubts that seemed buried after the horrors of Russia are back,” said daily newspaper Marca on Tuesday.
“They took a whack from reality that sent them back three months.”
Newspaper AS said Spain should have had a penalty but delivered a harsh assessment of the side’s performance, saying “the midfield was lazy and the defence was too high up and suicidal”.
Centre-back Sergio Ramos scored Spain’s second goal in stoppage time but he was criticised by the media.
“There’s a Madrid fan in the office who says he needs just one minute of a game to know which version of Sergio Ramos is playing,” wrote Juan Carlos Diaz in Marca.
“When he plays in Seville [his birthplace] he practically always shows off... he subtracts more than he contributes.
“It seems that in his brain he only hears one sentence. ‘You are the best Sergio, the best.’ It might be too late now but maybe people shouldn’t say it so much.”
La Liga President Javier Tebas said Spain’s fans also let the country down after some of them booed the English national anthem.