WE all need to get our prayer mats out and hope Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham will be fit next June.
As we have seen in these final two Euro 2024 qualifiers, without these two proper A-listers, the two only world class players in the team, England really do look a little ordinary.
So for the time being at least, Gareth Southgate’s hopes of toppling Brazil in FIFA’s world rankings must be put on the back burner.
Best team in the world? You’re having a laugh.
Southgate knows there will have to be one hell of an improvement when the Brazilians come to London for a March friendly.
After a 2-0 win over Malta on Friday, this was no better.
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England fell behind after a ludicrous VAR decision to award a penalty for an apparent foul by Rico Lewis, who enjoyed an otherwise fine debut. Aberdeen’s Enis Bardhi scored from the rebound after Jordan Pickford saved the spot-kick.
With England hopeless up front, Kane had a major hand in the equaliser just 40 seconds after coming on as a substitute by putting pressure on Jani Atanasov who turned the ball into his own net.
England missed the injured Bellingham for both of these matches and as a result, looked nowhere near as decisive or energetic in midfield.
But the most blindingly obvious worry is what the hell we would do without Kane who, this calendar year for Bayern Munich and England, has scored 48 times.
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It was the first competitive game Kane had started on the bench since October 2021 when England won 5-0 in Andorra with Tammy Abraham playing up front.
Ollie Watkins was rewarded for his 12 goals for Aston Villa with a start but touched the ball just 11 times and will be lucky if he gets another chance.
And here is the real problem with England’s attack. Callum Wilson is decent but always injured, Marcus Rashford can play at no 9 but is erratic and the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Dominic Calvert-Lewin do not appear to be quite up to the standard.
So all eyes are now on Ivan Toney to see what he looks like when returning from a betting ban in January – while he could end up moving somewhere before the transfer window.
Admittedly, England were not helped by a string of injuries for these two games which included the loss of John Stones, Luke Shaw and even James Maddison.
And they were facing a stubborn team that drew with Italy here in September having beaten them in a World Cup play-off in 2022.
But although it is stating the bleeding obvious, if you want to be the best in the world and maintain incredibly high standards, you have to be beating North Macedonia away.
As England feared, the pitch was indeed incredibly poor but there was still no excuse for the team looking so toothless in the final third.
Watkins should have done much better with a header following a brilliant cross from Phil Foden. England would have been walking back to their half for a restart had Harry Kane been playing.
Declan Rice, who thought he had scored a belting cracking against Malta only for it to be ruled offside, was denied by the post following a thunderous drive.
After looking in complete control, the warning signs came when Harry Maguire carelessly gave the ball away and then lost his footing, stumbled and then fell on Elif Elmas.
The Napoli midfielder and the crowd roared for a penalty and there was a VAR check but somehow, Maguire got away with it.
Yet England were certainly not so lucky with that shocking decision concerning Lewis who caught Aderdeen’s Bojan Miovski in the eye..
Lewis’ arm flicked out as he jumped in the air, Miovski made the most of minimal contact and it was even a surprise when Slovakian referee Filip Glova was called over to the screen.
But in another insane example of football being needlessly re-refereed, Glova pointed to the spot and Macedonia’s Enis Bardhi scored from the rebound after Jordan Pickford saved his penalty.
Even when Pickford produced a decent save to push away Bardhi’s penalty, the rebound fell perfectly for the Trabzonspor midfielder to hammer the ball past the Everton keeper.
Maguire then got a boot in the face following the corner and Jack Grealish then started to pick a fight with a couple of opponents.
And within two minutes, Grealish thought he had levelled after some terrific play by Saka but after a three-minute VAR check, that was disallowed.
Yet England still huffed and puffed and Southgate had seen enough and before the hour, replaced Watkins with Kane.
He then sauntered on to the pitch and then put pressure on Atanasov who turned Phil Foden’s corner past his keeper.
Even so, despite dominating, England were completely lacklustre and over these next four months before the games against Brazil and Belgium, Southgate has plenty to think about.
And for those who think England will easily win Euro2024, give your heads a wobble.
Source: Soccer - thesun.co.uk