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Five talking points as sluggish England held by North Macedonia
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Matthew Hill
It was a frustrating evening for England against North Macedonia
It was a frustrating evening for England against North Macedonia

England brought the curtain down on their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with a forgettable 1-1 draw against North Macedonia in Skopje.

An own goal from Jani Atanasov cancelled out Enis Bardhi's shock first-half opener for the hosts, meaning Gareth Southgate's side finish Group C with 20 points from a possible 24.

Here are five talking points from an underwhelming evening for the Three Lions.

Worryingly blunt

Prior to kick-off, England's line-up looked to be brimming with attacking quality — but once again they failed to make it tell in the shot count.

Aside from stopping a couple of routine efforts, home goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski was a spectator as the visitors' valuable attacking ensemble struggled to click.

The only time the Three Lions offered a genuine threat was when wide pair Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka drove at their full-backs, though their end product was lacking on virtually every occasion.

And when Saka did eventually back his dribbling up with a pinpoint cross, goalscorer Grealish was belatedly ruled offside by VAR.

Lively Lewis

Manchester City youngster Rico Lewis was surprisingly handed his senior debut from the start in Skopje.

The versatile starlet, who turned 19 today, was a surprise inclusion in Southgate's squad last week but did not look out of place during an all-action performance.

Providing plenty of tenacious tackling and neat touches from his inverted full-back role, Lewis' night was slightly blotted by the concession of a harsh penalty which eventually led to the hosts' opener.

Ultimately, though, this showing will have done his chances of a surprise appearance in Germany next summer no harm.

Missing the main men

If any England players emerged from this evening's showing with enhanced reputations, it was the talismanic duo of Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane.

Real Madrid sensation Bellingham pulled out of the squad through injury and his absence has been hard felt against both Malta and North Macedonia. 

Meanwhile, the introduction of skipper Kane for the anonymous Ollie Watkins after the break sparked England into life, with the Bayern Munich man playing a key part in his side's equaliser.

Of course, any team would feel the absence of two elite performers but England's overreliance on Bellingham and Kane will be a major concern for Southgate.

Spirited hosts

While it is easy to level criticism at the lacklustre visitors, North Macedonia deserve some credit too.

Having been thumped 7-0 at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture back in June, Blagoja Milevski's men came to set the record straight and defended doggedly despite qualification being out of reach.

Bardhi's goal — netting the rebound of his own penalty which had been saved by Jordan Pickford — was a positive moment to take from what has been an ultimately frustrating campaign.

Yet with stars such as Napoli's Elif Elmas in their ranks, the minnows have cause to hope for a brighter future.

Job done

England will be in pot one for the Euro 2024 draw
England will be in pot one for the Euro 2024 draw

Monday's result means England are guaranteed to be one of the top eight seeds in next month's Euro 2024 finals draw.

While the clash represented a third straight underwhelming performance in a qualifier, the Three Lions have ultimately done their job by reaching Germany with a minimum of fuss.

What is more, history suggests that sluggish qualifying campaigns under Southgate will have little bearing on England's tournament performance.

However, there are certainly a few kinks that need to be ironed out over the coming months if England are to conquer Europe next summer.


EnglandNorth MacedoniaEuropean Championship
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