Spain welcome England to Alicante for an international friendly on Friday, a match Raheem Sterling feels is the perfect opportunity for Roy Hodgson’s side to prove how far they have come.
The defending European champions represent a tougher test than any of the Three Lions’ Euro 2016 qualifying opponents, who were dispatched comfortably as victories were picked up in all 10 matches.
Spain too had a smooth path through to the tournament in France next year, winning nine of their 10 qualifiers to ensure they will have the opportunity to defend their European title, having been dethroned at world level by Germany.
As well as taking on Vicente del Bosque’s men, England have a game against hosts France this month and Sterling thinks the double-header is a great opportunity for a young squad to test their progress since suffering disappointment at the World Cup.
“A few of the lads know each other from the Under-21s so there is a real young squad and we are always learning,” said the Manchester City attacker.
“It is always good to meet up and work together. We are young but there are players here who have played club football in the Premier League for a long time now and will try to grow our experience with the national team.
“We will work hard and fight for places to hopefully be in the Spain game and get a result there.
“We know it was a good run in qualifying but this is the real challenge now – we play some of Europe’s best teams. This is where we see where we are ahead of tournament in summer.
“Hopefully we can show what we can do and – it has been a good year and has been an exciting time. I hope these young players, including myself, can come together and shine for our country.”
History suggests victory for England will be a tough task – despite beating Del Bosque’s side at Wembley in 2011, they have not scored in their last three matches in Spain.
La Furia Roja – who also play Belgium during the international break – have won 10 of their last 11 home games, although the visitors will take confidence that they have not lost in their last eight friendlies.
Spain stalwart Gerard Pique, who has been the subject of criticism from some sections of the national team’s support, believes the lack of success for England at major events is linked to their international youth set-up, although he thinks they should be encouraged by the qualifying campaign.
“I think now they are in one of their runs and that is a really good sign,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“But in England, the problem has always been that there is no stability. For me, it all depends on the youth team. I remember when the Spanish team won the European Championships [in 2008], before that there was a lot of criticism.
“They won the Euros then we won the World Cup and the Euros again and there were players – Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres – who had worked together since they were 12, 13 and finally the first-team were getting results.
“You have to have that faith. With a club you can change players. With a national team you cannot change your country. But in England the team has continually changed.”
Spain have had Isco (muscular injury), Juanfran (thigh), Sergio Ramos (shoulder) drop out of their squad for the game, while England have lost James Milner (hamstring).
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