Wales endured a chastening return to the Principality Stadium as they were outplayed by Spain.
As impressive as the visitors were, they were the beneficiaries of dismal Welsh defending which allowed Paco Alcacer to score two well-taken goals either side of a header from Sergio Ramos, who was left inexplicably unmarked from a free-kick.
Fortunately for the hosts, the usual raft of substitutions slowed the tempo of the friendly in the second half.
Spain seemed content to treat this fixture like a glorified training session, though Marc Bartra did glance in a fourth goal.
There was at least some consolation for Wales – in a stadium at which they were playing for the first time since 2011 – when Sam Vokes headed in from David Brooks’ fabulous cross but that was a rare positive.
Although they were faced with formidable opposition here, Wales had precious little to encourage them before Tuesday’s Nations League trip to the Republic of Ireland.
Spain stroll to another big win
Ryan Giggs’ sixth match in charge – against a Spanish side who had not lost inside 90 minutes since Euro 2016 – was always likely to be his most challenging yet.
The former world and European champions, under a new manager in Luis Enrique, are looking to heal the wounds of a tempestuous World Cup campaign, which started with his predecessor Julen Lopetegui sacked on the eve of the tournament and ended in the second round with a penalty shootout defeat against hosts Russia.
However disappointing that campaign may have been, though, Spain’s results either side of that competition – a 6-1 friendly thrashing of Argentina and a 6-0 demolition of Croatia in the Nations League – suggested their struggles in Russia were a mere blip.
That view was supported by this authoritative display, even if Enrique’s players were given an armchair ride by their ramshackle opponents.
Rodri, Atletico Madrid’s 22-year-old winning only his third cap, impressed in a holding midfield position where he may one day succeed the great Sergio Busquets, while Valencia left-back Jose Gaya also caught the eye in his second appearance.
It was in attack, however, where Spain really tore Wales apart.
Suso had a hand in all four goals, with Wales unable to clear his eighth-minute cross, allowing Saul Niguez to lay the ball off to Alcacer, who swept the ball into the top corner.
It was then a free-kick from the former Liverpool forward that reached Ramos, who, despite his fine scoring record from set-pieces, was allowed the freedom of Cardiff to head into the bottom corner.
When Alcacer seized on a mishit Harry Wilson clearance to volley in Spain’s third goal after less than hour, the home fans may have wondered if they would find themselves on the receiving end of a drubbing heavier than Croatia’s.
But they were saved major embarrassment in a low-key second half, in which Suso hit the bar with a curling effort before delivering the corner which substitute centre-back Bartra headed high into the net.
Wales’ unhappy return to the Principality
This was Wales’ first match at the Principality Stadium since a 2-0 European Championship qualifying defeat by England in March 2011.
Their return to Welsh rugby’s 74,500-capacity home – formerly known as the Millennium Stadium – had split opinion among followers of the national football team.
In the intervening seven years, fans have packed the smaller Cardiff City Stadium to create a fervent atmosphere, which has been an important factor in recent Welsh success.
Some were reluctant to leave the ground which Wales’ players consider their home, though the Football Association of Wales sought to capitalise on Spain’s allure by moving this friendly fixture while also insisting competitive matches would remain at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Supporters and players understandably had reservations about returning to the Principality Stadium, given the cavernous feel of some of their earlier fixtures at the then sparsely-populated venue.
A healthy crowd of 50,232 at least justified the FAW’s decision from a commercial point of view, even if a section of the Welsh fans voiced their anger at the switch and questioned the loyalty of some of their fellow supporters inside the ground.
For most, however, the chief source of consternation was the football itself.
While most expected Spain to dominate, the way in which Wales unravelled defensively was a cause for concern with more important tests to come when they return to competitive action.
Man of the match – Rodri (Spain)
Alcacer’s long wait – the stats
- Wales conceded more than four goals in a home game for the first time since October 2006, when they lost 1-5 against Slovakia.
- They have won just one of their six previous meetings with Spain (D2 L3).
- Spain are unbeaten in their past 27 matches in all competitions (W18 D9), scoring 80 goals in this run.
- Sam Vokes has been directly involved in five goals in his past four games for Wales (three goals, two assists).
- Paco Alcacer scored his first goals for Spain in 1,098 days, since netting twice against Luxembourg in October 2015.