LONDON: England will head to the World Cup on the back of a six-match winless sequence but with at least some pride and confidence restored after a thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Germany in the Nations League on Monday.
Gareth Southgate’s listless side trailed 2-0 to Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty and a superb effort by Kai Havertz with less than 20 minutes remaining and boos beginning to resound at Wembley in their final Group A3 match.
The knives were being sharpened for Southgate after his faith in centre-back Harry Maguire backfired in both goals.
Gundogan slotted home the opener from the penalty spot after Maguire, who has been publicly backed by the England boss despite being dropped at club level by Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, gifted possession to Jamal Musiala and then chopped down the Bayern Munich midfielder.
Havertz then curled brilliantly into the top corner after Maguire was dispossed in the German half.
But two goals in three minutes transformed the atmosphere around Wembley and the scrutiny on Southgate’s position heading to Qatar — England’s first goals from open play in 5½ competitive matches.
Luke Shaw was also restored to the starting line-up despite his lack of game time at United and started the fightback by volleying in at the back post.
Moments later, two of Southgate’s substitutes combined to deadly effect as Bukayo Saka set up Mason Mount to curl home.
Harry Kane’s 83rd minute penalty after Nico Schlotterbeck’s challenge on Jude Bellingham was punished following a VAR review then appeared to have given Southgate’s side a morale-boosting victory.
But four-time world champions Germany, themselves in a poor run of form heading to Qatar, salvaged a point as as Nick Pope spilled Serge Gnabry’s shot and Havertz pounced on the rebound in the 87th.
Substitute Bukayo Saka almost won it for England late on as the fans were left scratching their heads at why the hosts had taken so long to play with any freedom.
England finished bottom of the group with three points behind Germany on seven, Hungary with 10 and Italy, who topped the group on 11 points to reach the Nations League final four.
It is more than 100 years since England last went six competitive games winless but they at least changed the narrative with a stirring fightback against Germany.
“The boys have been under pressure with recent results and we all came out here with a point to prove,” Kane said. “There are lessons we can still learn from the mistakes we made but we scored three goals and I feel like this will put us in a positive mindset ahead of the World Cup.”
Both sides needed a pre-World Cup tonic after poor Nations League campaigns with England suffering the ignominy of relegation after losing 1-0 away to Italy last Friday, the same night Germany lost by the same scoreline at home to Hungary.
The last time the two heavyweights met at Wembley, in the Euro 2020 finals, England won 2-0 and were riding a wave of euphoria. But the mood has turned sour mainly because of a woeful lack of goals — Kane’s late penalty in Germany being their only goal in their previous five Nations League games.
But Southgate hopes England will feel the benefit of being put under intense pressure in recent days at the World Cup.
“The whole experience has been what we needed,” said Southgate. “You are going to have pressure in a World Cup. You can try to avoid pressure, but it’s coming. It’s better that we feel it and know how we deal with it. The players reacted in the right way — we showed character but a lot of quality.”
The draw capped a disappointing Nations League campaign for Germany, who ended with one win from their six games, but forward Thomas Mueller said I will have little impact on their morale heading into the World Cup.
“Today’s game is not relevant for our outlook,” Mueller told reporters. “We are there to concentrate fully on having fun and maintaining the desire and cohesion to throw everything we have into the World Cup in order to do justice to this German ‘tournament team idea’,” he added, referring to Germany’s reputation for being a team that excels at major tournaments.
“Maybe there will be criticism from outside, maybe not, I don’t know. It’s not up to me, but I couldn’t care less what’s written from the outside.
“We will put ourselves in a good position for the World Cup, give everything, and we will see what we will get there in terms of sporting results.”
NATIONS LEAGUE CONSOLATION FOR ITALY
Italy, who will miss a second consecutive World Cup, again found consolation in Europe as they won in Budapest thanks to goals by Giacomo Raspadori and Federico Dimarco to edge Hungary for first place in the group.
Raspadori, who scored the winner against England on Friday, poked the ball home after Wilfried Gnonto had pounced on a poor Hungarian back pass to give European champions Italy the lead in the 27th minute.
Hungary then had a great chance to equalise just after the break but goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma kept out a flurry of shots by Loic Nego, Callum Styles and captain Adam Szalai, who on Monday ended his international career.
Midfielder Dimarco made it 2-0 for the visitors in the 52nd minute when he blasted the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
“We needed these matches to restore enthusiasm, even if the World Cup remains an open wound and we can not go back,” said Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. “We have to start again, we have to do it for all of Italy.”
Italy, who fell to a low point in March, less than a year after their Euro 2020 title, when they failed to qualify for the World Cup, have a another European final tournament to look forward to and joined the Netherlands and Croatia in qualifying for the final four, which will be hosted by the Dutch in June.
“It’s important to have reached the Nations League final four for the second time, but the previous results unfortunately remain,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said. “Let’s say that we were good at restarting and setting up a group that has values on which you can work.”
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2022