Harry Kane saved England from going to Germany next summer after winning the Euro qualifier. North Macedonia, beaten 7-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the campaign, looked set to pull off one of the biggest upsets in English history but eventually settled for a 1-1 draw.
It was only seconds from Kane coming forward in the second half that the visitors were able to erase the opening from Inis Bardhi. The home captain scored on the replay after Jordan Pickford had his controversial penalty saved. For Gareth Southgate, it was the first time in eight attempts under his charge that England had come back to get anything from a game they had lost at half-time.
Read Express Sport’s full analysis of the shocking result in Skopje below…
Thank heaven for Kane. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best – and sorry Ollie Watkins or any of the other leaguers. That means England captain. It took just 40 seconds of his presence to save Gareth Southgate’s side from an embarrassing final qualification defeat after coming on as a substitute.
TV replays suggested that Phil Foden’s corner may not have been touched by – Jani Atamasov was the victim of that – but it was the Bayern Munich striker’s pressure that ultimately caused the error. . Certainly, if Southgate is keen for England to top the world rankings sometime soon, the message didn’t seem to get through to some of his players.
Veteran Rico Lewis curled a low shot towards the corner deep into first-half injury time, otherwise this would have been the second game in a row where England had not managed a single shot on target in the opening period. Against Malta and Northern Macedonia. England fans were looking for progress in the final against a team England had beaten seven times earlier in the campaign – Kane scoring two of them.
Now Ollie Watkins has had a rare chance to make an initial bid to claim his Euro 2024 understudy role – and he has put in his lines. He failed to touch a near-post chance as early as the second minute and soon after lacked power and accuracy with a free full header in the six-yard box.
Declan Rice had hit the post just before but this was another dominant performance from England who lacked a leading edge. In fairness, it looked good. The way Rico Lewis began his international career in the dual roles of defensive left-back and inside left-back has at times been very exciting for campaigns beyond this one.
Phil Foden also had one of his better performances and Declan Rice completed most of the triangles. But it all went somewhere – and that was dangerous. Another Harry Maguire gaffe didn’t end with a penalty in North Macedonia in the 23rd minute – a strange VAR decision in the 41st minute.
Lewis caught Bojan Mioviski with a flurry of hands as he landed from a header and there was hardly any appeal. That didn’t stop VAR and one glance at referee Filip Glova’s monitor was enough. Enis Bardhi’s spot-kick was saved by Jordan Pickford but the North Macedonia skipper hit the rebound.
Two minutes after the restart, England thought they were level but Jack Grealish was just off the mark when he finished off good work from Bukayo Saka. He was definitely going to take Kane. He came on for Watkins in the 58th minute with England waiting to take a corner.
Across Foden, Kane nodded to the defender. The ball went into the corner of the net. This time no one was crying for him. Naturally, England were in search of a winner as Kane inspired much more movement around the North Macedonian defence.
But the home side were not without their chances and in the end England were content to reach the end of 2023 unbeaten if they did not fire on all the cylinders they will need to fire themselves to the top of the world.
England vs North Macedonia player ratings
Jordan Pickford 6
A quiet night he saved a pint out of nowhere and then was unlucky to let the rebound in.
Kyle Walker 6
He is very much a leader on the pitch for England’s young team but perhaps his wider pace would be better.
Marc Guehi 7
He continues to look unflustered and capable in defense and give Southgate a very real starting option.
Harry Maguire 5
A disastrous commitment and almost giving up on punishment while agreeing – England need a firmer foundation.
Rico Lewis 8
He was unlucky with the penalty, having taken on his two roles with considerable energy and understanding.
Trent Alexander-Arnold 7 free
Great hand on the stroke of half-time and as busy as anyone probing the defense but they just couldn’t find the magic.
Declan Rice 7
England were kept in possession by constantly offering outside ball and was central to England’s dominance.
Bukayo Saka 6
A few moments when it looked dangerous but England didn’t get nearly enough of the ball.
Phil Foden 7
He seems to enjoy a free role across the front line and has been busy in anything England have produced.
Jack Grealish 6
Another disappointing performance when England needed someone to lift them. A frustrating figure.
Ollie Watkins 4
Oh dear. There are not many chances for no. 9 claim to accept as Kane’s understudy and prefer to moderate his.
Harry Kane (Watkins 58)7
England blushes from the bench.
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