England recorded a 2-0 win over Malta at Wembley to top their qualifying group, but it was a less than impressive display.
Having already booked their place at Euro 2024 with a 3-1 victory over Italy in September, many were expecting a free flowing attacking display from England against whipping boys Malta in London, but it was far from it.
Despite taking the lead in the 8th minute thanks to an own goal from Enrico Pepe, England failed to record a single shot on target in the first half of a home international since November 2017 in a friendly against Germany. Infact, it took the Three Lions until the 63rd minute to register their first shot on target of the match as Bukayo Saka’s shot was straight at goalkeeper Henry Bonello.
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Harry Kane finally doubled England’s lead in 75th minute after some fine work from first Phil Foden and then Bukayo Saka, who found his captain all alone in the box to fire in his 62nd goal for his country and extend his lead as the all-time top goalscorer. His strike against Malta was the 45th different match that he had scored in for England and his 15th goal in his last eight games for England and Bayern. It was the eighth consecutive game Kane had scored in, a new personal best for the 30-year-old as he continued his fine goalscoring form since his move to the Bundesliga from Tottenham in the summer.
Declan Rice thought he had added a third with a curling effort from outside the box less than two minutes later, but it was chalked off by VAR with the offside Kane interfering with play as it flicked off his shirt on the way into the goal.
Overall it was a dull and uninspiring performance from Gareth Southgate’s men, with some glimpses of hope from Phil Foden, who got the chance to play behind the striker in Jude Bellingham’s absence in the second half, and Arsenal duo Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice would make England a better side when coming on.
England’s performance echoed the fears of Graeme Souness, who has backed England to win the Euros if (a big if) Gareth Southgate can take the handbrake off and be bold.
“If England want to be remembered as more than the bridesmaids they have become, they have to win next summer’s European Championship.” The Scot wrote in his Daily Mail column.
“Can they do that with Southgate as manager? Yes, if he takes the handbrake off and allows a team who are good enough to beat anyone to go and do so. Southgate has done a good job in seven years, but he could have done better. England could have been the bride at both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and Euro 2020. My criticism would be that he is too much like a counter-puncher in boxing. His teams come out and feel their way into a game. It is rarely with the attitude of, ‘We’re just going to out-score you’.
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“England should have no one to fear. France apart, all the major European teams are weak. I’ve never known a weaker Spain, Germany or Italy. Spain have Alvaro Morata up front, and he has been a nearly man at all the big clubs in Europe. Southgate doesn’t need to play two holding midfielders. Declan Rice is most definitely good enough to do that job on his own. He has the athleticism and the brain to sense and eliminate threats.
“Get another attacking player in there. They have been lacking creativity at times and the best creative player in English football has been, for a number of years, James Maddison. OK, Maddison is injured, but there has been a reluctance to throw him in. I would play him just off Harry Kane, and Kane would love playing with him. Southgate has the players to win tournaments and this, for him, is a wonderful opportunity.”