England shared the spoils with North Macedonia in an uneventful 1-1 draw in their final 2024 European Championship qualifying game tonight.
With qualification for the Euros in the bag even before a flat 2-0 home win against Malta last Friday, Gareth Southgate had the luxury to toy with his starting XI in the dead-rubber in Skopje.
Ollie Watkins took captain Harry Kane’s place in the heart of England’s attack, while Manchester City’s up-and-comer Rico Lewis made his first senior start for the Three Lions.
It wasn’t like England had nothing to play for. A victory would’ve sealed a seeded spot in next month’s draw, forcing the beaten Euro 2020 finalists to take the North Macedonians seriously despite thumping them 7-0 in the reverse fixture at Wembley.
England imposed themselves as a dominant side from the outset, enjoying much possession and pinning their hosts to their opening third. But as in the game against Malta, clear-cut chances were at a premium, especially in the early stages.
Watkins could’ve repaid Southgate’s trust with a goal inside the first 15 minutes, but his free header from point-blank flew harmlessly across the face of goal, posing no threat to Stole Dimtrievski.
Other than the Watkins opening, the first 45 minutes in Skopje were a carbon copy of England’s first-half performance against Malta. Southgate’s side were comfortable in possession but looked clueless in the front third, failing to produce a shot on target.
North Macedonia had no clear sight of Jordan Pickford’s goal in the first half but managed to grab the lead. Lewis will want to forget his international debut as quickly as possible after being penalised for a reckless challenge on Bojan Miovski.
Trabzonspor midfielder Enis Bardhi took it upon himself to take the penalty. Pickford pulled off a superb save, but there was no salvation on the follow-up as Bardhi hammered the ball into an empty net.
Lewis tried to redeem himself in first-half stoppages. Unfortunately, his decent attempt from the edge of the box ended in the safe gloves of Dimitrievski.
The Rayo Vallecano goalkeeper had to make another save before half-time to fingertip Trent Alexander-Arnold’s mid-range thunderbolt over the bar.
England thought they had settled the score immediately after the break as Jack Grealish pounced on Bukayo Saka’s teasing cross to turn the ball home. However, VAR disallowed the Manchester City star’s goal for offside.
Southgate reached out to the bench before the hour mark, hoping to turn things around. Seconds after being introduced, Harry Kane helped England to restore parity.
Phil Foden whipped in a delightful corner kick that took an awkward deflection off Kane’s marker and finished in the back of the net.
Despite continuing to control the game with meaningless possession, the Three Lions failed to take advantage of the changing tide.
Southgate’s side didn’t create a chance in the remaining half an hour, ending an impressive qualifying campaign on a low.
England Player Ratings vs North Macedonia
Jordan Pickford (7/10) – Denied Bardhi’s penalty with a spectacular save. Otherwise, North Macedonia’s dreadful attacking performance rendered his role between the sticks meaningless.
Rico Lewis (5/10) – Refused to take risks when in possession but cast a shadow on his first England start with an unfortunate giveaway.
Marc Guehi (7/10) – Had a field day against North Macedonia’s uneventful frontline and was heavily involved in the build-up play.
Harry Maguire (6/10) – Got away with a mindless tackle on Elif Elmas in the first half, when North Macedonia could’ve been awarded a penalty.
Kyle Walker (6/10) – Another typically energetic performance from the England stalwart. But had some sloppy reactions at the back.
Declan Rice (7/10) – Had several decent-looking progressive runs and distributed the ball around the pitch with surgical precision.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (6/10) – Like a few days ago, the Liverpool star struggled in the central midfield. Unleashed a devastating attempt towards the end of the first half to force Dimitrievski into a massive save.
Jack Grealish (6/10) – Another classic ‘Grealish performance.’ Twisting and turning on the left wing before playing backward passes.
Phil Foden (6/10) – Far less influential than against Malta. Couldn’t find a ‘killer pass’ despite enjoying plenty of possession.
Bukayo Saka (5/10) – Vanished from the field after a promising start. Resurfaced at the start of the second half with a moment of brilliance, only for VAR to deny him an assist.
Ollie Watkins (5/10) – Barring the early chance, the Aston Villa talisman was cut adrift from the pack for most of the night. Rightfully withdrawn before the hour mark.
Harry Kane (6/10)
Marcus Rashford (NA/10)
Kalvin Phillips (NA/10)
Cole Palmer (NA/10)
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