“I was great at half-time,” said the Spain manager Luis Enrique. “The logical thing would have been to kick something, crap on everything and kill them, but I didn’t.” He didn’t need to: Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane – especially Harry Kane – had already done so.
That was the verdict from the Spanish media in Seville. If Luis Enrique didn’t kill his players, nor for the most part did they. After three wins out of three, 12 goals scored, “the spell was broken” said Sport and there was criticism of course, a lot of it. Luis Enrique had expected that: “I’m ready for the ‘party’,” he insisted. Mostly, though, there was Kane, the man El Mundo said had “dismantled Spain”.
He’d had some help. “Spain sing,” led the headline in El País. Singing means messing it up. “With a crash, like all the kitchen utensils falling at the same time, Spain were sent back to reality,” wrote Eduardo Castelao in El Mundo. The first half had been “shameful”, he said. “Spain went off at half-time feeling like they had been beaten up.” England went off at half-time, Tomás Roncero imagined in AS, thinking: “yeah, whistle that!” At the Benito Villamarín, supporters had whistled God save the Queen, a recurring theme in Spain and one that the press is particularly ashamed of. At half-time, England’s fans were singing it again. They had asked if this was Scotland in disguise. At one point there were even olés.
It wasn’t Scotland but nor was it the way Spain were supposed to be. Castelao though suggested this was exactly the way Spain have been of late: “This was like Hierro, Lopetegui and Del Bosque’s teams.” The front of Marca declared: “They caught us while we were whistling.” Their match report insists: “Spain talked so much about [the 12-1 win over] Malta [in this stadium] that they got distracted. They went from optimism to doubts, gifted the first half and paid for it. Soaked in eulogies, they forgot how to defend.”
“Mentally,” José Luis Hurtado continues, “the game was played in Newcastle. Spain needed a towel to freshen up; instead they found their living room full of Englishmen.” Whatever that means. The message about Spain’s mentality, though, was clear – and it was repeated in AS, who led on Jordan Pickford’s moment with Rodrigo, the front page shouting “PENALTY!”, but whose editorial conceded that Spain had deserved defeat, punishment for their attitude.
“Over-confidence is a sin in football,” Alfredo Relano wrote. “Spain so sure of their superiority that they gifted half the game. Spain felt like they owned everything and started to play as if they didn’t have an opponent, as if Pickford’s was the only goal.”
Instead, the goal was David de Gea’s – and, while the blame is not his, he continued his run of not saving a shot. In front of him, Spain’s two full-backs were torn apart. The centre-backs were too. Sergio Busquets didn’t take control. Saúl, so impressive under Luis Enrique, was virtually absent. “Nihilist tiki-taka returned,” complained Javier Matallanas. “Chaos in defence,” AS lamented. Dani Ceballos admitted that the first half had been “a bit of a disaster”. Luis Enrique called it “painful”. The second-half reaction was not enough; it was too late.
“We hadn’t cocked it up like this against England since the 16th century,” wrote Jorge Bustos in El Mundo. “And the Guadalquivir looked easier to navigate than the channel. The elements that made us run aground, leaving a shipwreck, have a name: Nacho Fernández, Marcos Alonso, Saúl, Sergio Ramos, etc. What use is it for Spain to have more talent than England man for man if England are faster and think quicker? Does this load of passes still fool anyone? This was a disaster just like it was with Lopetegui. They had left their courage on the bus with the phone charger and their shame.”
And there, they had encountered England. “Sterling spent the first half flying round inside a rocket and finished in front of De Gea as if he was a striker collecting an award at the Fifa gala,” Marca said. AS called him and Rashford “hares”, so fast as to be unstoppable. Between them, Kane gave a “lesson” AS said, Joaquín Maroto saying he “ate” Ramos and Nacho. “He wore a bowler hat and a suit in an impeccable first half: a classic striker who is good at absolutely everything,” wrote Luis Nieto. In Marca they were equally impressed: “Time was the typical English striker made it feel like every high ball was a trip to the ironmongers. Not any more. Kane is a ‘Lord’, so intelligent, a man who knows football outside the area too.”
In El País, Diego Torres was wondering why he isn’t more highly rated, saying that Real Madrid had not been interested in signing him in the summer. “Maybe it’s the eyes, the sad face, but here’s a silent genius,” he wrote. One who was in his element: “It rained on Sevilla the way it’s supposed to rain on Chingford. He doesn’t appear on the highlights reel, but did it all to bring Spain to their knees without anyone really understanding how.”
“He undid all the magic in 45 minutes,” insisted Albert Masnou in Sport. “He’s a wonderful footballer, unique, right up there with the best even though he doesn’t have the talent of Messi or the athleticism of Ronaldo, or the technical ability of Neymar. He doesn’t have those qualities but his intelligence is so brutal that he can still make the difference in so many games. He would be a great replacement for Luis Suárez at Barcelona.”
Not so fast. If Sport was imagining him at the Camp Nou, Marca were waiting for him in Seville, after everyone else had gone, imaging him at the Bernabéu instead. “Would you like to play for Madrid, Harry?” they asked. “I can’t talk tonight,” he said, heading out and onto the bus.”