ALICANTE (Spain) • Once again, England were reminded of their shortcomings as soon as the standard of opposition goes up a notch.
Ten straight wins in qualifying for Euro 2016 were followed by a clear 2-0 defeat by Spain on Friday - the first occasion England played one of Europe's leading nations.
If there is one consolation for Roy Hodgson's men, it is that they did avoid this friendly turning into the kind of chastening experience that was threatened during the opening stages.
The Three Lions could hardly get a kick then and after a difficult start, they did at least settle and play with a degree of composure in the middle part of the match.
Ultimately, though, the moments of high quality all came from Vicente del Bosque's side, most notably in the form of a wonderfully taken opening goal from their right-back, Mario Gaspar.
The defender's 72nd-minute spinning volley was the outstanding moment of a night when Spain clocked up their seventh successive win and England were beaten for the first time since the World Cup.
Substitute Santi Cazorla added the second goal six minutes from time and it was difficult not to leave with the feeling that England's run of victories has been slightly deceptive, given the moderate standard of opposition in their Euro 2016 qualifiers. To put it into context, this was a Spain side who could not even shoehorn Juan Mata, Pedro Rodriguez and David de Gea into their starting XI.
Hodgson admitted his side may never be able to bridge the gap in technical ability to Spain.
"Most teams that play against Spain, there is a gap," said the England manager.
He left captain Wayne Rooney on the bench in favour of a youthful triumvirate of Harry Kane, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling in attack.
"The opposing team have less possession of the ball because they are so good technically and pass the ball so well," he explained.
"That gap may always exist, we knew that and knew we had to work very hard defensively to stop them using that ability to create goal-scoring opportunities, which we managed to do for the best part of the game.
"If you say, are we going to be able to match them in that unbelievably clever passing way, perhaps we can't, but we don't need to do that. We saw they had a disappointing World Cup like ourselves but they are a good team and we've got work to do."
Spain captain Iker Casillas, who became the first goalkeeper to keep 100 clean sheets in internationals in his 165th appearance, said the signs were positive for La Roja ahead of the continental tournament in France next year.
The 34-year-old was one of those singled out for criticism after the reigning champions failed to get past the group stage at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"Two good national teams with good players met and, in the end, in the second half, we managed to get the goals and win the match," the Porto goalkeeper said.
"That is very positive for us heading into the European Championship," he added.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS