Gareth Southgate says there can be no let-up for England if they are to win next summer’s Euros and become the top-ranked team in the world, despite having already secured qualification for the tournament.
The Euro 2020 runners-up sealed their place at the 2024 edition in Germany last month – with two matches to spare – and were below par in Friday’s qualifier against Malta.
England disappointed in the 2-0 victory at Wembley and will look to end 2023 on a high as they round off Euro 2024 qualification in North Macedonia this evening.
Southgate’s side arrived in Skopje all but assured of being among the top seeds in December’s draw in Hamburg, but every moment counts as they seek to be best on the planet.
“Qualification’s done,” the England boss said ahead of the Group C finale. “With the games at the weekend, we might be ranked third in the world at the minute, but we’re two places off where we need to be, so we can’t waste games.
“Some of the players have got three games to get into a squad, some have got maybe three to get into a team, maybe a couple more if we’re talking about the team.
“There’s some things we’d like to see. But if we’re going to be a top team, then the level of performance has got to be spot on every time.”
What time is North Macedonia vs England?
North Macedonia vs England kicks off at 7.45pm GMT from the Toše Proeski Arena in Skopje.
How can I watch live?
The match will be shown live on Channel 4, with coverage beginning at 7pm.
Viewers can also stream it for free online via the Channel 4 app and website.
Radio listeners can find the game on on BBC Radio 5 Live and talkSPORT.
What are the key talking points?
England attempt to end year unbeaten
Gareth Southgate’s men have ultimately cruised to qualification from a potentially tricky pool, going unbeaten across 2023 in the process. England have not looked back since rebounding from their World Cup quarter-final defeat to France by winning at reigning European champions Italy, going on to qualify with two games to spare. They all but sealed a place in the top pot for next month’s Euro 2024 draw by beating Malta 2-0 on Friday, taking this year’s record to eight wins in nine matches in all competitions. Southgate says he wants to end the year on a high and wants to build momentum by going undefeated all the way through to Euro 2024.
Final foreign assignment before the Euros
England face March tests against Brazil and Belgium in Wembley friendlies, with another couple of home matches lined up as Southgate’s side fine-tune for their shot at glory in Germany. It means Monday’s qualifier in Skopje will be their final match on foreign soil until the Euros get under way in June, with Southgate saying it will be good to be in “a challenging environment because that’s what we’re going to be in next summer”. There will be 2,332 travelling fans at the sold out 32,000-capacity Tose Proeski Arena, which may also end up playing host to Southgate’s final qualifier as England boss.
How will Southgate juggle his selection?
Southgate has dealt with a disruptive build-up and saw his already absentee-hit selection compounded by five of his initial group withdrawing through injury. A further three players have been absent for periods for the meet-up due to personal reasons, with Kieran Trippier among those leaving the camp on Sunday, while Jarrod Bowen later withdrew after sustaining a knee injury in training. It means England have travelled to Skopje with only 21 players and Southgate is having to balance load, fitness and freshness for a potential dead rubber that will see wholesale changes. Cole Palmer will be hoping to make his first start after making his debut off the bench on Friday. The Chelsea talent was a late call-up along with Ezri Konsa and Rico Lewis, who will be hoping to win their first cap in the Balkans.
Can Ollie Watkins impress?
Record goalscorer Harry Kane would love to have the chance to pad his stats in Skopje, but surely Southgate will use this opportunity to give Watkins a run out as number nine. No England striker has been able to nail down a position as back-up to the skipper, but the in-form Aston Villa striker has a great chance with Ivan Toney banned and Callum Wilson suspended.
Macedonian revenge mission
North Macedonia were blown away in June’s reverse fixture at Old Trafford, where they were a far cry from the side that had recently shocked Germany and Italy. Kane struck twice in a 7-0 annihilation that also saw Marcus Rashford and Kalvin Phillips get in on the act, but Bukayo Saka was the star of the show with his tremendous treble. Head coach Blagoja Milevski apologised to the nation in the post-match press conference and said on Sunday that he pledged to show a “new face” in the rematch. Given they held the Azzurri to a 1-1 draw in Skopje two months ago, it would be a shock if they are not vastly improved.