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Spain gets reality check after good start under Luis Enrique
By TALES AZZONI
MADRID (AP) It took less than a half to bring Spain back to reality.
Three goals before the break in a 3-2 loss to England were enough to turn all the hype into concern, and to prompt the first wave of criticism against coach Luis Enrique.
The defensive collapse against the young and speedy English forwards on Monday in the UEFA Nations League left fans in awe. And it didn't take long before part of the Spanish media began blaming the coach for the result in Seville, Luis Enrique's first loss since taking over after the team's disappointing World Cup showing.
It was Luis Enrique's choice to use a high defensive line that proved costly against the English squad, with confusion in the back leading to all three first-half goals at Benito Villamarin Stadium.
Luis Enrique tried to keep his team pressing up high from the start in an attempt to pin England back on defense, but that ultimately gave the visitors a chance to take advantage of the extra space behind the Spanish defenders.
A nice pass by Marcus Rashford into open space led to Raheem Sterling's opening goal, and similar plays later in the half gave England the three-goal lead by the break. They were England's only attempts on goal in the entire match, but that was all that was needed.
Spain played much better in the second half. The 2010 World Cup champions got a goal from substitute Paco Alcacer early in the second half and another from Sergio Ramos on the final play of the match.
"It wasn't out best night, that's evident. We didn't expect to suffer so much," Luis Enrique said. "It was difficult to apply the pressure that we wanted and they had their chances on counterattacks. We made too many mistakes."
Spain had thrived with applying high pressure in its first games under Luis Enrique, overwhelming this same England squad 2-1 at Wembley Stadium and routing Croatia 6-0 to open the Nations League with two impressive victories. It also defeated Wales 4-1 in a friendly in Cardiff last week.
Luis Enrique said what proved costly against England on Monday were individual mistakes by some of his players in the back, which allowed the English forwards to break loose behind the unprotected defense.
"I was actually feeling great at halftime," Luis Enrique said. "The normal thing would be for me to be trying to kill my players."
The result gave Luis Enrique an unwanted record early in his stint with the national team - Spain had never before conceded three goals in a competitive match at home.
It was La Roja's first home loss in 15 years, and the first against England on home soil since 1987.
The loss also kept Spain from securing a spot in the final four of Europe's newest competition. England moved within two points of Spain's lead in Group 4 of the top-tier League A. Croatia is five points behind, but with a game in hand.
Spain visits Croatia in its final group game in November, while England hosts the Croats.
"This was an accident," Spain midfielder Dani Ceballos said. "Now we have to move on and try to beat Croatia in our next match."
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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
Updated October 16, 2018