LONDON • Despite the "bottler" jibe from Harry Kane, Gareth Southgate must have feared the homecoming might turn out this way, with a slap in the face to shrug England out of all the giddiness of their World Cup's exploits.
The frantic finale, when Danny Welbeck thought he had equalised and Spain, for the first time, appeared rattled as England reverted to a more direct approach, did not hoodwink Southgate into thinking his team had properly matched Luis Enrique's side, who triumphed 2-1 on Saturday at Wembley.
Spain were the better team in Enrique's first game in charge and this had been another education - the 11th match under Southgate against opponents in Fifa's top 20 which has not been won in normal time, with complaints over a refereeing oversight merely masking reality.
"We have to accept Spain were better than us for long periods of the game," said Southgate. "Their retention of the ball was top class. We were a bit disjointed in our pressing... we aren't able to do that when teams press high against us yet."
Kane, however, was not humbled by the gulf in class as the England striker raged at Dutch referee Danny Makkelie for ruling out a seemingly fine goal from Welbeck.
In their first game since reaching the semi-finals in Russia, England were denied a point in their Nations League opener when Makkelie awarded a foul in favour of Spain goalkeeper David de Gea for minimal contact with the substitute.
"In the big moments, you need the referee to stay strong, but unfortunately, he has bottled it," he said.
Marcus Rashford drew first blood but Spain bounced back to go ahead before half-time through Saul Niguez and Rodrigo. The Three Lions also suffered a blow after left-back Luke Shaw was stretchered off with a head injury, but he was later said to be "awake and alert".
England have now lost three straight games for the first time in 30 years and Southgate will be hoping for a positive result in tomorrow's home friendly against Switzerland, who started their Nations League campaign with a 6-0 rout of Iceland on Saturday, if the feel-good factor is not to dissipate quickly.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN