Craig Levein labelled his Scotland side "heroes" after fighting back against Spain before going down to a 3-2 defeat in their Euro 2012 qualifier at Hampden Park.
The world and European champions broke the Scots' resistance with a 44th minute penalty by David Villa and looked set to cruise to victory after Andres Iniesta doubled their lead in the 55th minute.
But Scotland pulled one back just three minutes later through Steven Naismith's first international goal and Gerard Pique's own-goal in the 66th minute gave the hosts hope of a famous result.
Substitute Fernando Llorente then struck in the 79th minute, though, to maintain Spain's 100 per cent record in Group I and condemn Scotland to heartbreak.
"It's very frustrating," Levein told Sky Sports. "I was immensely proud of the players tonight.
"They were heroes every one of them - from the first minute to the last.
"I didn't think it was over (at 2-0), and the reason I say that is I believe I've got a group of players that will work, work, and work till they drop.
"I believe I've got players that have got good quality on the ball and have good team spirit and belief in themselves.
"To get one back, then I realised we had an opportunity to keep pressing forward, and I'm just sick that we didn't manage to take anything from the game."
Spain made a host of chances in the first half and, but for a blocked shot from James Morrison, looked comfortable until Naismith sparked Scotland's fightback.
Levein's men then gave Vicente del Bosque's star-studded line-up a real scare before bowing to Llorente's late winner.
"I thought they were rattled," Levein added. "We had them on the back foot.
"They're a fantastic team, they knocked the ball about and had us pinned back for long spells.
"But I did feel our use of the ball was excellent tonight, the choice of pass was excellent, and the way they went about their business in general - it was a joy to be the manager of the group of players that performed it."
Allan McGregor was Scotland's star man after a busy night in goal and Levein had nothing but praise for the Rangers keeper, who has kept Craig Gordon on the bench.
"I thought he was fantastic," said the Scotland boss.
"Going into the game, we spoke beforehand about him needing to make some saves to help us and he was absolutely fabulous.
"But every single one of them were heroes and I was thrilled to bits with the performance they put on."