England midfielder Grace Clinton is excited to “hit the ground running” as the Lionesses start their European Championship qualifying campaign this week.

The defending European champions kick off against Sweden at Wembley on Friday before facing Republic of Ireland in Dublin four days later.

England then play France at St James’ Park in May and Tottenham loanee Clinton believes the side will need to be on “top form”.

“It was drawn right after the last camp, it’s a really competitive group but that’s always going to happen when you’re in such an amazing tournament,” Clinton told a press conference.

“I think we’re all really excited to get started to be honest and hit the ground running.

“(Sweden are) another team that has amazing depth and are a really strong side, they’re very physical and quite direct, score goals. So we’re going to have to be on top form if we want to get a result against a team like that.”

Clinton has two senior England caps under her belt already having made her debut in two friendlies in Spain, which included a debut goal in the Lionesses’ 7-2 victory over Austria.

After impressing in Spain, the 21-year-old will be aiming for more minutes in this month’s qualifiers and believes she has gained more confidence since making her senior bow.

She said: “It brings so much more confidence, in the lead up to getting your first cap you’re always going to be very nervous and now that you’ve been out with the girls on the pitch and really gone in the deep end it just feels a lot more natural when you’re in training.

“You have far more confidence to express yourself each time.”

Captain Leah Williamson is aiming to make her international comeback in the upcoming matches.

A post on the official Lionesses X account confirmed the defender was following an “individualised session” on Tuesday and Clinton is looking forward to seeing Williamson back on the pitch.

“It’s my first camp with Leah back in and she’s one of the best in the sport isn’t she? So it’s amazing to have her back,” she said.

“Obviously she’s getting integrated slowly and we’re only a couple of days in, so it’ll be really nice to get her back with the team on the pitch.”

Ivan Toney scored on his first England start in the friendly draw with Belgium and is now aiming to make up for lost time by securing a place at Euro 2024.

The Brentford striker won and scored a penalty either side of a Youri Tielemans brace for the visitors, who looked on course for a Wembley win before Jude Bellingham’s last-gasp effort secured a 2-2 draw.

It was Toney’s full England debut and just his second cap, coming exactly a year after his first.

For the majority of that year Toney was sidelined through suspension, having been banned for eight months after breaching Football Association betting rules.

He returned to action for Brentford in January and has scored four goals for the Bees since, while England boss Gareth Southgate kept a watching brief.

“It was always going to be hard to watch knowing I should have been there,” Toney said of England games he missed while banned.

“But that’s done and dusted now. I can’t change it. There’s no point dwelling on something I can’t change because it’ll just hurt me even more.

“But hopefully I can make the Euros squad and put things right. I try to be confident, but let’s see what happens.”

There was a long delay between Toney winning the spot-kick for a foul by Jan Vertonghen and then coolly converting from 12 yards.

For Toney, though, the outcome of the penalty was never in doubt.

“It felt very good,” he told BeIN Sports.

“This morning I spoke to my friends and I said I feel a penalty today and when I ran in behind, I felt the contact and there was no doubt that it was a penalty.

“So it is just patience, really – wait for the keeper to get on the line and do what I do best.

“I practise them all the time, every day and just pretend it is a training pitch and put in the back of the net and I’ve done that.”

While Toney impressed and got off the mark for England, there were other standout displays.

Manchester United teenager Kobbie Mainoo’s midfield performance was particularly eye-catching, while Jarrod Bowen enjoyed arguably his best night in an England shirt too.

The 27-year-old West Ham forward looked sharp on his seventh cap but saw his first England goal chalked off when VAR ruled him offside as he headed home in the first half.

Bowen is also hopeful of squeezing into Southgate’s ranks in Germany.

“There is no question I want it more than ever,” he told BBC Radio 5Live. “The main thing now is to go back to West Ham, hit the ground running there, keep doing what I’ve been doing all season and hope I get the opportunity.

“There is a lot of football to be played before that squad is named. I have been in a good place this season and the main thing was to continue to do what I’ve been doing.”

England’s all-time record scorer Harry Kane opened his international goal account within 80 seconds of making a “dream” debut on this day in 2015.

Kane netted almost immediately after coming on as a 70th-minute substitute against Lithuania at Wembley, wrapping up a 4-0 win with a thumping far-post header.

The then 21-year-old, who had already scored 29 goals for Tottenham that season, was given a standing ovation as he took to the field and it did not take him long to get the sell-out crowd back on their feet as, with one of his first touches, he found the back of the net.

Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling scored England’s other goals, but the headlines belonged to Kane after a one-sided Euro 2016 qualifier.

Asked if he knew how long he had taken to get off the mark, Kane said: “Maybe a minute? Eighty seconds? Hey, it’s not too bad!

“It’s the start I dreamed of, it’s a little bit of a blur at the minute. It’s the best moment by far, to represent your country at senior level is the top. Hopefully I can keep doing it and it’s the first of many.”

It was a dream start which impressed then England captain Rooney – a man who knew a thing about coping with pressure and scoring goals and whose national-record of 53 goals Kane surpassed in March 2023.

“It’s fantastic, international football’s different and to score after 80 seconds is incredible for Harry,” he told ITV. “We’re all delighted and hopefully it’s the first of many.”

All those involved were quick to try and keep a lid on expectations, but given Kane now stands alone at the top of England’s goalscoring charts, they clearly knew what they were seeing.

“It is fantastic for Harry,” manager Roy Hodgson said. “We’re so delighted for him. It is a bit of a fairytale, but it’s nice when fairytales come true and it’s come true for Harry.”

“He’s crowned his England debut with a well-taken goal. Couldn’t be better really. It’s a very satisfying evening for us. I think it’s too early to put this pressure on Harry Kane. We should just be happy that he has done so well for Tottenham and made a name for himself to get into the England set-up.

“That’s not easy to do as we have a number of good forwards but let’s be happy with that and leave the future predictions to the future.”

Gareth Southgate praised Jude Bellingham’s never-say-die attitude after saving England from defeat against Belgium at the end of an international break that provides plenty of food for thought ahead of the Euros.

Among the favourites for glory this summer, the side third in FIFA’s world rankings stepped up preparations with a pair of high-level friendlies against the nations directly behind them in those standings.

Brazil are fifth and struck late on Saturday to inflict a first defeat on England in 15 months, which fourth-placed Belgium looked set to compound at rainy Wembley three days later.

Youri Tielemans opened the scoring after a Jordan Pickford error, with a Lewis Dunk mistake resulting in the Aston Villa midfielder scoring again after Ivan Toney had converted a penalty on his first senior start.

Fellow full debutants Ezri Konsa and, in particular, 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo also impressed in a friendly that ended 2-2 after Bellingham struck at the end of second half stoppage time.

“I liked it because I know the rubbish we would have got if we lost two games on the bounce,” the Real Madrid midfielder told Channel 4.

“These are two games that are going to stand us in good stead going into the Euros. I know people will be negative but you have to take these games for what they are.

“You’ve got to keep perspective. We had a lot of lads making debuts (this week) and a lot of lads I’ve never played with. We created a lot of chances. I should have scored (previously). I was happy I could make it up to the team.”

England boss Southgate told the post-match press conference: “Jude, of course, is the headline.

“That competitive spirit, that desire not to lose, desire to win in the end, was decisive in getting the late goal.

“But I thought the whole team showed that throughout the game and recovered from setbacks with a pretty inexperienced team, really, against a team that have got some very, very good players. Very pleased with a lot of what I saw tonight.”

Bellingham pulled the Euro 2024 hopefuls through at the end of a challenging international meet-up marred by injuries.

John Stones joined England’s eye-watering absentee list when limping off with an adductor issue within 10 minutes on Tuesday, when Mainoo’s man-of-the-match performance was among a number of impressive displays.

“The great thing is definitely some players have emerged positively from the opportunities they’ve had,” Southgate said reflecting on the Brazil and Belgium friendlies.

“We’ve perhaps got more depth in one respect, but the injuries are a concern. We’ve got so many players missing at the moment, and we’ve still got the real heat of the season to come, with the intensity of the games, what’s resting on the games.

“We’re not going to know what we’re left with until right until the end but we’ll just have to make the best decisions that we possibly can.”

Southgate praised Toney, Jarrod Bowen and James Maddison for their attacking impact against Belgium, while Anthony Gordon has also earned plaudits during the week.

Southgate has plenty to mull over ahead of announcing his provisional squad on May 21, which has to be whittled down to a 23-man group by June 8.

“In terms of knowing the 23, there’s so many unknowns at the moment in terms of who might be available,” Southgate said.

“So, yes, these performances were very important for players to be able to see whether or not they could play against high level opposition.

“But equally the way they play between now and the end of the season with their club, in big matches is going to have a high tariff as well so we will track all of that.”

Liverpool beat Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday with a side containing a number of inexperienced youngsters due to a host of injuries to senior players. Here, the PA news agency looks at the fresh faces who took the chance to shine at Wembley.

Conor Bradley (starter)

A relatively familiar name among the group having been given an opportunity in the second half of the campaign in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Northern Irish right-back, 20, who spent last season on loan at Bolton, has shown promise for his attacking and defensive qualities.

Bobby Clark (substitute)

Another to have been given a handful of opportunities in recent weeks, the 19-year-old is an attacking midfielder or forward. The son of former Newcastle midfielder Lee Clark, he joined the club from the Magpies in 2021 and signed a long-term contract last December.

James McConnell (substitute)

Also 19, the midfielder has featured a handful of times off the bench after making his debut against Toulouse in the Europa League in October. Joined Liverpool as an Under-15s player after catching the eye at Sunderland.

Jayden Danns (substitute)

An 18-year-old forward who only made his first-team debut as an 89th-minute substitute in the 4-1 win over Luton last Wednesday. Has been with the club since the age of eight and is the son of the much-travelled former Colchester, Crystal Palace and Bolton midfielder Neil Danns.

Jarell Quansah (substitute)

Warrington-born defender who has established himself in the first-team squad this season. The 21-year-old, who had a loan spell with Bristol Rovers last season, is a ball-playing centre-half who has come through the ranks at Liverpool after joining them at the age of five.

England blew Scotland away with a powerful 6-0 victory but on a night of high drama fell short of making the Nations League knockout stages as Team GB’s hopes of reaching next summer’s Olympic Games were ended.

A conflict of interest was widely discussed before the game as a victory for the Lionesses – the nominated nation on behalf of Team GB in qualification for Paris next year – was the only way any Scottish players would be able to feature at the Games.

Pedro Martinez Losa’s side, already relegated from League A1 ahead of their final game, were simply outclassed by a visiting side but the Netherlands’ 4-0 win over Belgium saw them top the group.

Defender Alex Greenwood headed the opener after 12 minutes, two goals in a minute by Lauren James and another by Beth Mead just before the break had the game done by the interval.

Striker Fran Kirby added a fifth with Lucy Bronze heading in what looked a crucial final goal in the third minute of added time – but Damaris Egurrola’s late brace for the Netherlands meant they pipped Sarina Wiegman’s side on goal difference.

With only pride left to play for in front of 15,320 fans, Martinez Losa made four changes from the side that drew with Belgium on Friday with goalkeeper Lee Gibson, Emma Mukandi, Rachel McLauchlan and Kirsty Hanson coming into the side.

The visitors, who had stormed back to beat Netherlands 3-2 in their last outing, showed two changes with attacker Mead starting for the first time since sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury more than 12 months ago and Esme Morgan returning in defence.

The game quickly swung from end to end but the opening goal was poor from the Scots’ point of view. A Mead corner came over from the right and Greenwood jumped unopposed to lob a header over Mukandi at the far post with Gibson all too easily beaten as well.

England looked strong and confident and in the 27th minute Keira Walsh’s raking long ball was just missed by Mead at the edge of the Scotland box.

Three minutes later, James sped down the left on to a Greenwood pass and crossed for attacker Lauren Hemp but she struck the post from six yards.

England’s second came in the 38th minute when they were claiming a penalty for a handball in the box but James pounced on the loose ball and her strike from 20 yards took a big deflection off Docherty’s back and left Gibson stranded.

The Scots were still coming to terms with that blow when James brilliantly curled in England’s third from the edge of the box.

With Scottish heads spinning there was time for James to cross again to the back post for Mead to take a touch and fire past the helpless Gibson from 12 yards.

England’s thirst for goals continued after the break and within minutes Kirby tapped in a pass from Georgia Stanway, who overpowered Scotland captain Rachel Corsie on the byline.

Gibson did well to save a close-range drive from Hemp and a 25-yard free-kick from Greenwood and in between Kirby cracked the bar with a drive from 12 yards.

The classy visitors seemed to take a breather and in the 71st minute Hanson had a chance for the home side when she pounced on a short pass back and wriggled past England keeper Mary Earps but spun round and missed the target.

Scotland steadied themselves in the final stages and a last-minute header from substitute Martha Thomas came off the post but in the final moments Bronze sneaked in at the back post to head in a sixth – but Egurrola dramatically had the final say in Tilburg.

England boss Sarina Wiegman maintained full faith in her side to stage the stunning second-half comeback that lifted the Lionesses to a 3-2 win over the Netherlands in their penultimate Women’s Nations League group-stage clash at Wembley.

Needing a victory to remain in contention to finish top in group A1 and advance in the tournament, which serves as a qualifier for next summer’s Olympics in Paris, England quickly dug themselves a hole after Lineth Beerensteyn netted twice before the break.

But the Lionesses battled back after the restart on a frigid night in London, Georgia Stanway and Lauren Hemp stoking the crowd back into a frenzy by the hour mark before substitute Ella Toone sealed a dramatic victory in stoppage time.

Wiegman said: “I was actually pretty calm. I was very disappointed they scored the second goal because I didn’t think we played bad. The second goal we were a little bit unlucky, it was an unnecessary goal. We didn’t play bad but we needed some more. We truly believed we could turn it around. We never lost trust.

“At half-time we said the game was absolutely not over and that if we score a goal they can become a bit shaky.

“They were struggling with the defence with how we played in attack. We also did a tactical thing we needed to do better in defence. We said everyone needed to step up and bring something extra. You could tell the players gave everything because they were really tired.”

It leaves England in second place in the group, level on points with the Netherlands and one in front of Belgium, ahead of concluding their group matches by playing Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday. Belgium drew 1-1 with Scotland in Friday’s other Group A1 contest.

England and the Dutch are level in terms of head-to-head record, with the latter – who face Belgium at home next week – having a goal difference superior by three, while England will finish their group stage away at relegated Scotland on Tuesday.

Despite the victory, England’s keeper Mary Earps was left in tears as she spoke post-match about the two goals the Lionesses conceded, the second of which saw her get her glove to the ball only to see it slip past her and trickle in – something that left the Manchester United stopper beating the turf in frustration.

Knowing England needed to win by two goals to take over at the top of the group, Earps told ITV:  “I thought the girls were unbelievable to come back into the game. I thought they were unbelievable, the subs that come on impacted the game.

“I am just sorry that my performance has cost the team tonight.

“That [second goal] will haunt me for a long time today, I am really gutted because it could have been a really special night.

“The team were unbelievable, don’t get me wrong, the goals are unbelievable, the way that they played and moved it around showed great patience at times, real tenacity, real intensity to the play.

“I am a competitor but when it is not good enough, it is not good enough and I can only apologise to my team-mates and to the fans, I take that fully with my whole chest.”

The apology was utterly unnecessary for Wiegman, who said: “I spoke to her very shortly and I don’t want her to talk like that.

“We win as a team and lose as a team. That is part of the game. Of course she didn’t like the team down, everyone does her best. You only let the team down when you don’t put effort into the game and we never don’t put effort in.

“Everyone stepped up. We needed to step up as a team. I think everyone did that.”

England kept their bid to secure Olympics qualification for Great Britain alive in dramatic fashion as Ella Toone’s stoppage-time goal completed a fightback from two goals down to beat the Netherlands 3-2 at Wembley.

Needing a win to remain in contention to finish top in Nations League Group A1, the final position required for them to have a chance of obtaining a place for GB at next summer’s Games in Paris, the Lionesses were on course for a third defeat in the pool as Lineth Beerensteyn notched a first-half brace for the Dutch.

But Sarina Wiegman’s side battled back with two goals in quick succession from Georgia Stanway and Lauren Hemp just prior to the hour mark, before substitute Toone capped the turnaround in the first minute of time added on to bring a huge roar from the 71,632 crowd in attendance.

It leaves England in second place, level on points with the Netherlands and one ahead of Belgium, ahead of concluding their group matches by playing Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday. Belgium drew 1-1 with Scotland in Friday’s other Group A1 contest.

Beth Mead has been recalled to the England squad for the first time in over a year ahead of the Lionesses’ final Nations League fixtures.

It is a welcome return to the international fold for the 28-year-old Arsenal forward, who resumed club action last month after suffering an ACL injury last November.

England face the Netherlands at Wembley on December 1 before taking on Scotland at Hampden Park four days later.

Tottenham midfielder Grace Clinton and Manchester City goalkeeper Khiara Keating also retain their places, having received their first senior call-ups in October.

England were beaten 3-2 by Croatia at Wembley on this day in 2007 to end their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 and seal the fate of manager Steve McClaren.

Their failure to qualify for the Euros meant the writing was on the wall for McClaren, who was dismissed as boss a day later after 18 months in charge.

McClaren had watched the dismal defeat unfold in the pouring rain at Wembley from under an umbrella and was dubbed the “wally with a brolly”.

England only needed a draw to book their place at the finals in Austria and Switzerland but found themselves two goals down at the break, Scott Carson letting Niko Kranjcar’s 25-yard effort slip through his grasp for the first before former Arsenal striker Eduardo made it two.

David Beckham came off the bench for his 99th cap and inspired an England comeback as he set up Peter Crouch for a superb equaliser shortly after Frank Lampard had converted a 56th-minute penalty to put England on course for qualification.

But the fightback proved in vain as Croatia substitute Mladen Petric beat Carson from 20 yards 13 minutes from time to end England’s hopes.

After the match McClaren declared he would not be stepping down, but the Football Association took the decision out of his hands by sacking him after just 18 games, making him the shortest-serving permanent England boss in history at the time.

McClaren’s reign heralded just nine wins and ended with the team conceding three goals on home soil for the first time in 35 years.

“I feel I have let the fans down and the country down,” said McClaren.

“I knew that if we didn’t qualify that would put the board in a difficult position.

“I can understand the decision, the reaction and the criticism. It hurts and disappoints me, but that is football and it will make me stronger in the future.”

England turned next to Fabio Capello, while McClaren rebuilt his reputation by leading Dutch side FC Twente to the Eredivisie title in 2010 and had further spells at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, Derby, Newcastle and QPR and is now on the coaching staff at Manchester United.

Gareth Southgate wants England to go into next summer’s Euros with momentum and is targeting an unbeaten run all the way through to Germany.

Having wrapped up progress to next year’s finals with two games to spare, Friday’s forgettable 2-0 victory against Malta all-but assured their place among the top seeds at the December 2 draw.

England cruised to qualification from what had looked to be a potentially tricky pool and Southgate wants his side to end 2023 with a bang as they round off Group C away to North Macedonia on Monday.

But with Euro 2024 glory their stated ambition, the former defender wants his players to keep their foot on the gas.

“We’ve had a really good calendar year and we want to finish it well,” the England manager said ahead of the trip to Skopje. “Simple as that.

“We should be aiming to go, if we can, into the tournament unbeaten. We’ve got some tough games coming ahead.

“I mean, I’m a bit loathed to say that because then you start looking for draws when you want to go and win matches as well, so I want to get the messaging right on that.

“But, you know, it’s good for us to be away from Wembley again, a challenging environment because that’s what we’re going to be in next summer.”

England have not lost a match since last December’s galling 2-1 defeat to eventual runners-up France in their World Cup quarter-final clash in Qatar.

Les Bleus are among their main rivals for silverware next summer, with Southgate’s side stepping up preparations for the Euros with challenging March friendlies against Brazil and Belgium at Wembley.

Both opponents will provide stern tests for a team that Southgate says cannot afford to fall short of the level “they need to be at” like they were against Mediterranean minnows Malta.

“The teams we’ve got in March, we wouldn’t get away with it,” Southgate said. “And the players just would have a different level of motivation (compared to against Malta).

“This week was always going to be difficult. We’ve already qualified, the players are in the middle of a load of matches.

“We’re trying to look after a few physically with the team selection, so you’re making changes that, had we needed to win tonight to qualify, might be different.

“So, yeah, the whole week has been a little bit like that – couldn’t really get the players on the pitch until Wednesday and as a consequence we were flat. I accept that.

“That’s where we were but I’m not going to get into the players about that. I know why and they’ve won another game of football.

“It could have been by more. Not quite sure why the third (from Declan Rice) was disallowed, but there we are.”

 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by England football team (@england)

As frustrating as Friday night was at Wembley, England remain well placed for silverware in Southgate’s fourth – and quite possibly final – major tournament at the helm.

 

There is no time to waste with chances to work together limited, plus the fact Monday’s trip to Skopje looks likely to be their final match on foreign soil until the Euros get under way in June.

North Macedonia are expected to be far better than in June’s 7-0 Old Trafford annihilation and Southgate has a number of things to consider before settling on his side for the Group C finale.

“A lot of our decision-making is physical as much as anything at the moment, so it’s a strange thing,” he said.

“Probably if you’ve still got to qualify there’s a different focus on the games and everybody’s happy and understands their players have got to play.

“You’re not subconsciously thinking about ‘should we be pushing players out for another game?’

“So, we need to look at where we are after this game in terms of any knocks and bumps.

“We’ve got some fresh players to come in. We want to get the balance of the team right and then assess whether there are certain things we want to see and learn from Monday night’s game as well.”

Bukayo Saka refused to be drawn into more VAR controversy following England’s mundane Euro 2024 qualifying win over Malta.

The Arsenal winger has seen club manager Mikel Arteta handed a Football Association charge for his criticism of referees and VAR in the recent 1-0 Premier League defeat at Newcastle.

Arteta said it was “embarrassing” and a “disgrace” that Anthony Gordon’s goal was allowed to stand following a lengthy check.

England limped to a forgettable 2-0 victory over Malta at Wembley on Friday night but saw captain Harry Kane booked for simulation when there appeared to be clear contact from Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello.

Saka was introduced at the interval and set up Kane to double England’s lead before his Arsenal team-mate Declan Rice had a goal ruled out when VAR intervened once again to rule that Kane was offside.

“Honestly, let’s not make comments about VAR tonight,” Saka replied when asked about the tight calls.

“I think let’s just focus on the win, the three points and be positive about it.”

England had taken an early lead through an Enrico Pepe own goal but then toiled, with no shot on target until well into the second-half and Kane shown a yellow card having been accused of going to ground to easily.

Asked if he had ever known Kane to dive, Saka added: “No, no. Even if I did I’m not going to say it now! He’s not a diver.

“I think it was a clear penalty from what I saw. I thought even VAR would check it and overturn it but I don’t know what they saw.”

While the win over the minnows of Malta may have been wholly unconvincing, it does mean Gareth Southgate’s side are all-but assured of being top seeds at Euro 2024.

“(That is) very important,” Saka said.

“Going into this camp Gareth made that really clear and was clear that it was important for us.

“So obviously the mindset going into these two games we made sure that we were on it and we made sure that we were ready to win, so we won today – obviously we don’t want to lose to North Macedonia, the mindset (is) to go there and win again. So that’s what we’re focused on.

“I think it’s a game where we didn’t really start the best, obviously we tried to pick up the pace but we have to give some credit to Malta as well, they played quite well.

“But in the end, we won 2-0, we got the three points so now we just have to move on.”

Gareth Southgate said England’s players fell short of the standards they “need to be at” against Malta but had no concerns about their attitude and aptitude ahead of next summer’s European Championship.

Nobody at Wembley expected anything other than a victory from the side ranked fourth in the world against the one nestled between Fiji and Bermuda in 171st.

But already-qualified England made hard work of a straightforward Group C qualifying assignment on Friday, with Enrico Pepe’s own goal giving the hosts a lead in a first half in which they failed to muster a single shot on target.

Harry Kane added another after a rare moment of quality interplay in the second half as Southgate’s side limped to a 2-0 victory that all but assures their place among the top seeds at next month’s Euro 2024 draw.

“We didn’t start the game well,” the England boss said. “I’ve been in football for 35 years and if you don’t start well, it’s really difficult to pick it up.

“We needed, of course, to show better quality with the ball but also we were a bit stretched without it and a little bit disjointed in our pressing at times.

“We were not the level we would want to be at. We were not the level that we need to be at.

“But, equally, this group of players have been exceptional and I’m not going to start getting into their ribs too much about a performance like tonight.

“We made a few changes, we didn’t hit the levels we would have liked to have but they managed to win the game.

“Not in the style we’d have liked for the supporters but, in the end, we’ve won comfortably, as we should.”

England now head onto Skopje to complete their Euro 2024 qualification campaign against North Macedonia as preparations continue for next summer.

Glory in Germany is the sole focus and Southgate dismissed the suggestion that his players taking their foot off the gas at home to Malta was a worrying sign.

“No, it’s not a worry because I think sometimes when players have so many matches they almost self-regulate,” Southgate said.

“I’ve been a player. You know that there’s a certain level you need to hit to beat Italy here and you know that you don’t have to hit that level to win today’s game.

“Although you would think that everybody would be at the same level all the time, that’s not the reality of football.

“I’ve played in those matches myself and there are nights where subconsciously you just do enough to win and I think that’s a little bit where we were tonight.”

England were below par for the most part on Friday, but Southgate still saw things he liked in their final home match of an unbeaten year.

“We scored a lovely second goal and I think there were some individual performances that were very positive,” he added.

“I thought Trent (Alexander-Arnold) was very, very good (in midfield). Him and Phil (Foden) in the first half were the two that looked like opening things up.

“I thought Marc Guehi had a very mature performance again. He’s really growing as an international footballer.

“It was lovely to get Cole Palmer on and give him a feel of things and I thought he looked really very comfortable in the environment.”

The result meant Malta ended qualification bottom of Group C with defeats in all eight of their games, but they showed signs of promise against the Euro 2020 runners-up.

Teddy Teuma went close to a famous opener just 28 seconds into the match at Wembley, where head coach Michele Marcolini praised his players’ efforts.

“I’m very proud of my players,” the Malta boss said. “I think they came here in Wembley without fear, always brave. We tried to be as offensive as possible.

“They reacted very, very well to falling behind. I think during these European qualifiers, we grew a lot and in these last matches against Ukraine and England played very well.

“For everything, to grow, we need time. I am very happy with our performance and the regret is we didn’t score. It would have been amazing.

“Apart from that, we wanted to make the fans proud and I think today the players put on the pitch the last drop of sweat I asked them to do yesterday.”

England continued their unbeaten run in European Championship qualification with a 2-0 win over Malta.

The Three Lions opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Enrico Pepe put through his own goal.

Many supporters inside Wembley Stadium would have imagined a few more goals but they were made to wait till the 75th minute before they saw another when Harry Kane netted from close range to seal victory.

Elsewhere in Group C, Italy boosted their chances of making Euro 2024 with a 5-2 win over North Macedonia.

Matteo Darmian opened the scoring for the Italians before Federico Chiesa gave them a healthy advantage thanks to his brace before the interval.

But, Italy were made to sweat in the second half when Jani Atanasov scored twice to reduce the deficit to just one but Giacomo Raspadori’s strike nine minutes from time and Stephan El Shaarawy’s late fifth wrapped up the win.

In Group E, Albania qualified despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Moldova.

Albania hit the front in the 25th minute when Sokol Cikalleshi slotted home a penalty and their celebrations were put on ice when Vladislav Baboglo equalised for the home side, but the scores stayed level to send Albania through.

Czech Republic held onto the second qualifying spot as they claimed a 1-1 draw with Poland in Warsaw.

Poland looked like they would leapfrog their opponents into second when Jakub Piotrowski gave them a 1-0 lead but West Ham’s Tomas Soucek proved to be the hero – four minutes after the break – when he fired the ball home from close range to edge them further to qualification and ended Poland’s hopes.

In Group H, Denmark qualified for the group stages following a 2-1 victory over Slovenia.

Joakim Maehle put Denmark in front but Erik Janza’s strike four minutes later sent the teams level into the break.

The all important winner was scored by Thomas Delaney, who poked home from close range to send the Danes through.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan kept their hopes of qualifying alive thanks to a 3-1 home victory over San Marino.

The hosts were expected to gain all three points and were on their way when Islam Chesnokov claimed a brace, scoring either side of the break.

For just the second time in the qualifying phase, San Marino got on the scoresheet when Simone Franciosi nodded home from close range but Kazakhstan restored their two-goal advantage thanks to Abat Aimbetov’s late penalty.

Northern Ireland were thrashed 4-0 at the hands of Finland and slumped to their seventh defeat in qualifying.

England’s final home match of the year will be remembered for the pre-match tributes to Sir Bobby Charlton rather than the football that followed as Gareth Southgate’s side limped to a 2-0 win against Malta.

Friday’s European Championship qualifier at Wembley saw the senior men’s team play their first match since the incredible 1966 World Cup winner died at the age of 86 last month.

A fan mosaic, video montage and minute’s applause formed part of a fitting farewell to Charlton before the current crop made hard work of a simple assignment against the side ranked 171st in the world.

Southgate is dealing with a number of absentees right now and his side are already assured of qualification for Euro 2024, but this was hardly the entertaining display he hoped to put on for the 81,388 in attendance.

It could have been worse given Teddy Teuma went close to a famous Maltese goal 28 seconds into a Group C encounter, but the hosts went ahead as Enrico Pepe turned Phil Foden’s cross into his own net.

Harry Kane was furious to see the referee book him for diving rather than pointing to the penalty spot as a tepid clash continued, with the Euro 2020 runners-up failing to muster a first-half shot on target for the first time in six years.

Things did not improve much after half-time but a rare moment of attacking coherency and quick-thinking saw Kane strike home 15 minutes from time.

Substitute Declan Rice saw a third ruled out for a contentious offside call on a night that all but assured England’s place among the top seeds in December’s Euro 2024 draw.

Southgate named a surprisingly-strong side against the Mediterranean minnows on Friday, showing just five changes from last month’s win against Italy.

Conor Gallagher was among those brought in and breathing a sigh of relief after he was dispossessed and Teuma flashed just wide from the edge of the box inside the opening minute.

It was a close shave and England quickly went ahead thanks to a moment of Maltese misfortune, with Foden’s attempted cutback ricocheting off Pepe and beating goalkeeper Henry Bonello.

Southgate’s side would not give up that eighth-minute lead, nor build on it during a lifeless first-half display.

Malta were far more impressive than they had been in June’s reverse fixture and Paul Mbong fired over after Harry Maguire saw a lax pass cut out.

England musted just two attempts across a wretched first half that saw fans entertain themselves with Mexican waves and paper planes.

They should, though, have seen a penalty after Kane went down as he rounded goalkeeper Bonello.

The skipper turned around expecting a spot-kick, only for referee Luis Godinho to show him a yellow card for simulation. The on-field decision was allowed to stand by the VAR.

Kyle Walker and Bukayo Saka replaced Gallagher and Fikayo Tomori at the break.

Maguire’s deflected, looping header from a corner was easily gathered and Marcus Rashford continued to be frustrated by Malta’s backline as the qualifier limped on.

Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold collided and the former was replaced by debutant Cole Palmer, while Rice came on for Jordan Henderson. The veteran again received boos from some fans.

Alexander-Arnold, deployed in midfield, saw a shot saved by Bonello and whipped another attempt over as England pushed for a second, which came through the familiar boot of Kane after 75 minutes.

Malta were dogged in their defending but quick interplay involving Walker, Foden and Saka ended with Kane firing home from close range.

A minute later England appeared to have added gloss to the scoreline.

Rice collected the ball, burst forward and whipped a fizzing 20-yard strike past Bonello, only for the goal to be ruled out upon VAR review for Kane being offside.

Yannick Yankam thrashed the ball just wide and Alexander-Arnold nearly caught out Malta’s goalkeeper as the clock wound down.

Many fans made an early exit and groans met the announcement that there would be six minutes of added time as the night ended in a 2-0 England win, just like Southgate’s first match against the same opposition in October 2016.

Page 2 of 3
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.