Friendlies Roundup: Belgium win, England-Brazil, Spain-Russia draw

Russia in a match against Spain.(Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

Russia 3 Spain 3.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Sergio Ramos scored twice from the penalty spot as Spain drew 3-3 with Russia in a friendly on Tuesday.

Grit and some fine individual skill from striker Fyodor Smolov brought Russia back from 2-0 down to earn a draw which will boost morale after a tough year for the 2018 World Cup hosts.

"It was a very tense match and at a certain point we relaxed and lost control of the ball," Spain coach Julen Loptegui said through a translator. "The Russian team got better in the course of the game and things started working out for them."

Spain finishes 2017 unbeaten, but looked uneasy in defence as its seven-game win streak ended in humid conditions under the roof at the St. Petersburg Stadium.

Loptegui added he was happy that Tuesday’s game and Saturday’s 5-0 win over Costa Rica had given him the chance "to see almost all of our players" as Spain looks to the World Cup.

Milan midfielder Suso made his debut against Russia, while fringe players like Valencia’s Rodrigo and Real Sociedad’s Asier Illaramendi also featured.

Jordi Alba gave the Spain the lead in the ninth minute with a header, just after Smolov had missed a good chance at the other end.

Ramos added some lunges to his penalty warmup in a successful bid to throw goalkeeper Andrei Lunyov for his 35th minute penalty, awarded after a hotly disputed handball call.

Russia made it 2-1 when Smolov beat Girard Pique and scored in the 41st, and the Russian equalized in the 51st with Alexei Miranchuk’s effort on the rebound.

Spain responded almost immediately with another Ramos penalty after he was brought down by Georgy Dzhikiya. Smolov had the last word with a fierce shot from outside the penalty area in the 71st.

David de Gea leaped for a save in the 86th that denied Smolov a hat-trick and Russia a winning goal.

Russia midfielder Denis Glushakov played the final minute in goal after keeper Lunyov was hurt in a clash with Rodrigo. Lunyov suffered a gash to the head and was concussed.

The Russian team said he would spend the night in hospital, and quoted Lunyov saying: "Don’t worry, I’m fine."

England 0 Brazil 0.
LONDON — Maybe Neymar is saving himself for the World Cup.

For now, since becoming soccer’s most expensive player, finding the net is proving challenging for Neymar in a Brazil jersey. Even when coming up against an inexperienced defender in Joe Gomez who was making his first England start.

A 0-0 draw against England at Wembley Stadium left Neymar with only one goal in six games for the five-time world champions.

Not that the forward, who cost Paris Saint-Germain 222 million euros ($260 million in August), was too dispirited. Instead, he hopes the challenge posed by a resilient England serves Brazil well as it prepares for the World Cup.

"We faced difficulties, but that is good for us," Neymar said. "Most of our games will be like today. It was a match of overlapping, quick passes, moving around."

But with little created to trouble Joe Hart in the England goal. The hosts, too, were sterile going forward with striker Harry Kane sidelined through injury.

"I like the way we played. We did not give them any chances," Neymar said. "It was a match with high ball possession and we knew we were playing a team that would be more defensive than the others."

In his first European test as Brazil coach, Tite was surprised at the English defensive discipline and mental strength.

"They were like ice," Tite said. "They were really cold and never lost their minds."

England had also stayed cool on Friday against another of the world’s leading teams when Germany was held to a scoreless draw in north London.

"They won’t face a more difficult test than in the last two matches," England coach Gareth Southgate said. "I’m probably more proud tonight because we played the best team in the world with a full team out. We’ve come out with a really credible result."

In a friendly of few chances in front of 84,595 fans, the closest England and Brazil came to breaking the deadlock came in the final 15 minutes.

A long-range strike from Fernandinho shaved the post and Neymar fed Paulinho, who was denied at the near post by England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

"We were playing the best team in the world at the moment. I thought they were brilliant," Hart said. "They made it really hard for us and we had to adapt on the pitch … the defensive backline were absolutely phenomenal."

Dominic Solanke could have won it for England on his international debut in the closing minutes, but he failed to control Ashley Young’s cross, enabling goalkeeper Ramses Becker to gather the ball.

"Tonight we looked anxious with the ball," Southgate said, "and I think that is a consequence of the threat from Brazil."

Brazil, though, has only conceded 5 goals in its last 17 games and scored 38 times. Neymar’s only goal in the games since September came in a 3-1 victory over Japan on Friday before travelling to London.

"Against Japan we tested ourselves against a more mobile and skilled team, against England we tested ourselves against a team of strong and tall players, very solid," said Tite, who was hired in June 2016. "This will help in preparations."

England and Brazil will be travelling to the World Cup next year trying to erase painful memories of the 2014 tournament. For Brazil, there was the humiliating 7-1 exit to Germany in the semifinals on home soil. England didn’t even make it out of the group stage.

But at least both sides have qualified for Russia next year, unlike four-time champion Italy.

"History and T-shirts are not enough to take you to a World Cup," Tite said of Italy’s failure to advance from the playoffs on Monday.

Belgium 1 Japan 0.
BRUGES, Belgium — Romelu Lukaku turned into Belgium’s saviour again and became the nation’s all-time top scorer as he headed home for a 1-0 victory over Japan in a friendly on Tuesday.

A game between two teams bound for next year’s World Cup was decided in the 72nd minute, when Nacer Chadli weaved through the Japan defence and lobbed the ball into the goalmouth for Lukaku to head it over the goalline.

It was Lukaku’s 31st goal for Belgium and he became top scorer at age 24.

Lukaku was already instrumental in qualifying Belgium for Russia and also scored a brace last weekend in a 3-3 draw with Mexico.

Belgium fielded a lot of second-string players seeking to make a belated impression on coach Roberto Martinez.

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