England show their character but quality remains an issue

Gareth Southgate's under-pressure England came from 2-0 down against Germany to lead 3-2 before a late Nick Pope error led to an equaliser from Kai Havertz
England show their character but quality remains an issue

LATE ERROR: Germany's Kai Havertz scores their side's third goal of the game past England goalkeeper Nick Pope during the UEFA Nations League match at Wembley Stadium, London. Pic: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Uefa Nations League A3 

England 3 

Germany 3 

Gareth Southgate, a hero just 14 months ago for taking England to a European Championship Final, was on the verge of being booed all the way to Qatar until suddenly his team produced an unlikely comeback against Germany — but a 3-3 draw still leaves question marks over England’s quality, if not their character.

With England, already relegated in the Nations League after a terrible campaign, 2-0 down against Germany at Wembley and looking clueless and inert, suddenly his players found the energy and belief to save their manager from a level of disrespect and anger that only England managers truly know.

Germany were worthy of their lead through a Gundogan penalty and a fine curling effort from Kai Havertz mid-way through the second half. But somehow, with bookmakers already drawing up odds on who the FA would choose as Southgate’s replacement, the magic briefly returned.

Goals from Luke Shaw, Mason Mount, and Harry Kane (a thumping penalty) transformed not just the result but potentially the home team’s World Cup hopes too as they prepare to face Iran, the USA, and Wales in Qatar in November — even if Havertz’s second of the night to make it 3-3 on 87 minutes took away the glory.

What a crazy and fickle game international football is.

In July 2021 Southgate’s England were 1-0 up against Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley and on the verge of their first major international trophy since 1966.

But, having eventually lost that game 2-1, a miserable Nations League campaign had left them almost back at rock bottom with some fans even calling for Southgate to be sacked.

That was an over-reaction which the FA was certain to ignore, given that he has a contract until December 2024, but it didn’t stop bookmakers naming Graham Potter and Eddie Howe as favourites to replace him.

In reality, even if they were differently-minded, the options are pretty thin. Potter is highly unlikely to be interested having only just left Brighton for Chelsea; and Howe looks happy spending the money of his billionaire Saudi owners at Newcastle United.

This result ends the argument until 2023, even if it also highlighted defensive frailties that temper Southgate's escape from social media abuse.

There are mitigating circumstances for England’s recent poor form given that Southgate has openly used the Nations League for experimenting with tactics and team selection, but there’s no hiding that they have lacked energy, drive, and creativity — and, to be frank, any sign of a game plan, in recent times.

Their attacking play against Germany was slow and uninspired for long periods; their defending nervous and their goalkeeper all over the place.

Southgate’s team arrived at Wembley having failed to score a single goal from open play in a competitive fixture since beating San Marino 10-0 in November last year, despite the talent available to him. They at least put that right, and it’s easy to forget that England qualified for the World Cup comfortably, putting 10 past San Marino, five past Andorra and Albania, and four past Hungary along the way.

This is a team which has scored goals for fun in the past and which has shown a hunger and steel at tournament finals which was missing in the past. So, the question is either ‘What has gone wrong’ Or ‘What’s everyone fussing about?’ Before the match, Raheem Sterling favoured the latter, insisting ‘I don’t think any of the boys are panicking’ and Southgate urged the Wembley crowd to support his team despite recent results. But there’s no doubt there was a subdued atmosphere despite a sell-out in north London and a nervousness, especially at the back, from Southgate’s side which hardly helped ignite enthusiasm.

It typified England’s recent form when Sterling was put clean through by Shaw after 24 minutes but failed to finish, seeing his effort saved by Ter Stegen; and the same player wasted another opportunity from a clever Kane pass minutes later.

Kane’s flashing volley, which flew just wide, was another rare highlight but far more alarming was England’s nervous defence, which regularly gave the ball away and allowed, at one stage, Germany to have 65% possession away from home in the first half.

Aimless long balls from stand-in goalkeeper Nick Pope, who also twice handed Germany possession, didn’t help, either, adding to an air of frustration. Not what you expect at Wembley in the last match before a World Cup finals.

By the time John Stones went off after only 35 minutes with a hamstring pull, to be replaced by Kyle Walker, the place was deadly quiet.

Germany went ahead just seven minutes into the second half when the hapless Maguire made a poor challenge and Gundogan made no mistake from the spot; and it was no real surprise when Kai Havertz, given so much time and space, curled in a second after 67 minutes,.

Somehow, however, England responded. Shaw’s scrambled effort crossed the line, Mount’s flashing shot levelled and Kane’s penalty put them ahead. Wembley’s enthusiasm was curtailed by a second Havertz goal which Pope should have saved, leaving the match drawn. But England survived , just about, and so did Southgate — at least for now.

ENGLAND: Pope, Stones (Walker 37), Dier, Maguire, James, Rice, Bellingham (Henderson 90), Shaw, Foden (Saka 66), Kane, Sterling (Mount 66).

GERMANY: Ter Stegan, Hoffman (Werner 45), Schlotterbeck, Sule, Kehrer, Raum (Gosen 68s), Kimmich, Gundogan, Musiala (Muller 78) Sane (Gnabry 68), Havertz (Bella-Kotchap). 

Referee: Danny Makkelie.

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