Gareth Southgate’s team lurched to a 2-0 victory against Malta, but the tributes paid to Sir Bobby Charlton before the game will remain in the memory.
The senior men played their first game since 1966 World Cup champion, the legendary John S. F. Kennedy died last month at age 86.
The fans’ mosaic, video and minute of applause were all part of the fitting farewell for Charlton. This was before the new crop of players took on a straightforward assignment to beat a side that ranked 171st around the globe.
Southgate has a lot of absentees and is already certain of his team’s qualification to Euro 2024. However, this wasn’t the entertainment he had hoped for the 81.388 people in attendance.
Enrico Pepe’s own goal after Enrico Teuma turned Phil Foden’s cross in his own basket was the difference between the two teams.
Harry Kane, the Euro 2020 runner-up who failed to score a goal in the first half for the first six years, was angry that the referee booked him instead of pointing at the penalty spot.
After the half, things did not get much better. But Kane scored 15 minutes before time with a rare display of cohesion and quick thinking.
Declan Rice’s third goal was ruled out due to a controversial offside decision on a night when England had all but secured its place as one of the top seeds for December’s Euro 2024 drawing.
Southgate selected a surprising strong side to face the Mediterranean minnows, displaying just five differences from Italy’s victory last month.
Conor Gallagher, who was brought into the game in the first minute and breathed a huge sigh after being dispossessed by Teuma as he flashed the ball just over the bar from the corner of the box.
Foden’s cutback attempt ricocheted off Pepe, beating Henry Bonello in the goal.
Southgate’s team would not let go of their eight-minute advantage, or build upon it in a lackluster first half performance.
Malta was far more impressive in the reverse match of June. Paul Mbong scored after Harry Maguire’s lax pass had been cut.
England made just two shots in a first half that was dreadful. Fans entertained themselves by making Mexican waves or paper airplanes.
But they should have been awarded a penalty when Kane fell as he was rounding goalkeeper Bonello.
Referee Luis Godinho showed the skipper a yellow for simulation. The VAR allowed the on-field ruling to be upheld.
Kyle Walker and Bukayo Saka replace Gallagher at the half.
Malta was able to easily gather Maguire’s looping, deflected header after a corner. Marcus Rashford’s frustration continued as the qualifying game limped along.
Rashford collided with Trent Alexander-Arnold. The former was then replaced by Cole Palmer. Rice took over for Jordan Henderson. Some fans booed the veteran once again.
Alexander-Arnold was deployed as a midfielder. He saw his shot blocked by Bonello, and then whipped a similar attempt wide. England continued to push for the second goal, which they got through Kane’s familiar boot after 75 minutes.
Malta was tenacious in its defense but a quick interplay between Walker, Foden, and Saka resulted in Kane scoring from close quarters.
The scoreboard appeared to be a little more glitzy after England’s second goal.
Rice collected the football, surged forward, and fired a 20-yard rocket past Bonello. However, the VAR reviewed the play to determine that Kane was offside.
As the clock ticked down, Alexander-Arnold almost caught Malta’s goalkeeper.
The night’s match ended with a 2-0 England victory, exactly like Southgate’s first game against this opposition back in October 2016; many fans left early and there were groans when the six-minute stoppage was announced.