When England’s players froze on the field at the start of the second half against Spain, it was to celebrate Jamie Vardy establishing a two-goal lead by contributing to the mannequin challenge.
When they froze again in the closing minutes at Wembley Stadium, it was unintentional as Spain ran through the English defense to score twice and avoid defeat.
A counterattack was completed in the 89th minute by Iago Aspas, who curled the ball around defender John Stones and off the far post to mark his Spain debut with a goal. In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Isco brought the ball down on his chest and went past Eric Dier before shooting through substitute goalkeeper Tom Heaton’s legs.
And the Spanish even managed to outdo England after Tuesday’s 2-2 friendly draw, freezing in exaggerated poses in the dressing room to play their own part in the mannequin internet craze with a 56-second video that was swiftly uploaded.
Spain certainly had the last word as Julen Lopetegui signed off from 2016 with an unbeaten start in his six games as coach.
England counterpart Gareth Southgate was completing his audition after four games as interim coach. Letting a two-goal lead slip to a second-string Spain side will alarm the English Football Association but Southgate is still expected to be handed the job on a permanent basis rather than returning to the under-21s.
The Spain setback will rankle but Southgate is still unbeaten in his four games at the helm, including two wins and a draw in World Cup qualifying.
“I’ve proved I can manage big matches, that I can tactically, with the help of my staff, prepare a team to play against a top side and give them a tough test,” said Southgate, whose previous senior management role ended seven years ago at Middlesbrough.
“I feel every situation I’ve been through, and many have been complex and potential powder kegs, we’ve coped with very well. I’m pleased with how we’ve coped with it all, really.”
Southgate assumed the job in a difficult situation. Sam Allardyce replaced Roy Hodgson after Euro 2016 but he was ditched after only one game over unguarded comments to undercover reporters.
“I took over at a moment of instability for everybody, and we’ve brought stability back and built a platform for the team going forward,” Southgate said. “In terms of the remit, we’ve fulfilled that.”
The former England defender should have headed into meetings about his future with FA bosses with a victory.
It was the perfect start against Spain. Adam Lallana played in a crisp ball for Vardy, who was then brought down by goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Lallana converted from the penalty spot in the 9th minute to make it three goals in three games after failing to score in his previous 26 internationals, but the Liverpool midfielder was forced off injured 20 minutes later. Spain responded to going behind by rejigging the defense, switching from three at the back to four.
“We tried to play three and then two wing backs, five at the back. It didn’t work,” Lopetegui said through a translator. “The precise thing we tried to avoid was England catching us out in the way that they did for the move leading up to the penalty.
“So we suffered a little bit and that’s when we decided to change things, went four at the back and restructured slightly because we know England are very, very fast on the break.”
And Spain got caught out again three minutes into the second half. Captain Jordan Henderson whipped in a cross that Vardy met with a diving header to end a 14-game goal drought for England and Leicester.
Surrounded by downbeat Spain players, Vardy decided to indulge in a bit of fun. He stretched out his left arm while Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Theo Walcott also froze around downbeat Spain players on the Wembley Stadium field. But Spain had the last laugh thanks to Aspas and Isco.
“It was an ugly game, a tough game,” Lopetegui said. “But we reacted well.”
And for two teams who were eliminated from the European Championship in the round of 16, it avoided a miserable end to the year.