England concluded their Euro 2024 Group C qualifying campaign unbeaten following a low-key 1-1 draw in North Macedonia.
The Three Lions, who secured their spot in the finals in Germany with two games to spare, could not sign off the year with the win they craved after producing a lukewarm showing for long spells in Skopje.
Gareth Southgate had called for a big performance after failing to impress at home to Malta on Friday, but England lacked tempo throughout the first period and fell behind in controversial circumstances four minutes prior to the interval.
Harry Maguire was fortunate not to concede a penalty for a clumsy challenge just moments earlier, but debutant Rico Lewis’ inadvertent arm in the face of Bojan Miovski did see the hosts awarded a spot kick following a VAR intervention.
Jordan Pickford saved Enis Bardhi’s penalty but the Macedonia No. 10 was on hand to convert the rebound.
England stepped up a gear following the restart and after Jack Grealish had a goal chalked off by VAR for offside, the visitors levelled when Jani Atanasov diverted a right-wing corner into his own net under pressure from substitute Harry Kane.
England continued to push but rarely looked like nicking the winner on what proved to be a frustrating night overall.
England will now look forward to friendlies with Brazil and Belgium in March as part of their preparations for next summer’s Euros.
England play within themselves on a night that won’t linger long in the memory.
This wasn’t the statement performance Southgate had been calling for, but there’s still time to fine-tune during the March friendlies where motivation will surely be greater than it was here for what was essentially a dead rubber.
England rarely got out of second gear but it was job done in terms of remaining unbeaten. The point also ensured they will be one of the five best group winners, who will sit alongside hosts Germany as a seeded team in Pot 1 when the draw is made for the toournament next month.
Player of the match
Rico Lewis (England). This was a tough call, but Lewis came in and was impressive throughout. The teenager had a penalty harshly awarded against him, but he did not let it affect the rest of his performance and he certainly adds to Southgate’s options given his overall versatility.
NORTH MACEDONIA: Dimitrievski 7, Manev 7, Serafimov 7, Musliu 7, Dimoski 7, Bardhi 7, Atanasov 7, Alimi 7, Alioski 7, Miovski 7, Elmas 7. Subs: Kostadinov 6, Ristovski 6, Askovski n/a, Elezi n/a.
ENGLAND: Pickford 7, Walker 6, Guehi 7, Maguire 5, Lewis 7*, Rice 6, Alexander-Arnold 6, Foden 6, Saka 7, Watkins 5, Grealish 6. Subs: Kane 7, Rashford n/a, Phillips n/a, Palmer n/a.
14’ – ENGLAND CHANCE! Rice lets fly from 25 yards out but his low effort pings back off the far post.
41’ – GOAL! – North Macedonia 1-0 England. Pickford keeps out Enis Bardhi’s spot-kick but the Macedonia man makes amends by lashing in the rebound.
47’ – ENGLAND GOAL RULED OUT! The visitors think they have given an instant response as Grealish touches home after a wonderful run and cross from Saka. VAR checks for an offside…and after THREE minutes, the goal is chalked off to spark celebrations among the home fans.
59’ – GOAL! – North Macedonia 1-1 England. Kane tries to nod in from a right-wing corner but it hits Jani Atanasov and flies into the corner.
England benefitted from an own goal in consecutive games (Enrico Pepe on Friday, Jani Atanasov tonight) for the first time since June 2006 vs Jamaica and Paraguay.
England netted the 200th goal of Gareth Southgate’s tenure.