Jani Atanasov’s own-goal saw England fight back to snatch a 1-1 draw away to North Macedonia and secure a spot in pot one of UEFA Euro 2024 draw.
Enis Bardhi put North Macedonia ahead in the 41st minute on the rebound after his penalty was saved, with England’s 19 year-old debutant, Rico Lewis having conceded the spot kick with an accidental elbow on Bojan Miovski.
Atanasov deflected Harry Kane’s 58th minute header into his own net to hand England a point which secured the Three Lions a spot in pot one of the UEFA Euro 2024 draw, which takes place on Saturday 2 December.
England ultimately topped Qualifying Group C unbeaten whilst North Macedonia finished fourth and won’t feature at next summer’s tournament.
Kane spoke to Channel 4 post-match and described the match as a tough test as he explained: “Difficult game, we knew it would be and it was tough against a decent side playing on a pitch that’s difficult to play our style of football.
“We went 1-0 behind against the run of play with a soft penalty. It was good to get on the pitch, I’m always trying to help the team whether it is 90 minutes or 10 minutes. It was important for us to get a goal back and a shame we couldn’t get a second.
“I think it was an own goal, pretty sure. If anyone was going to get a second it was us.”
Kane also addressed the team’s sloppy end product as he added: “Against Malta we were sloppy on the ball, today we got a bit of a sucker-punch with the counter-attack and a soft penalty.
“We were playing against a team that people expected us to beat five or six nil, but they did a job on Italy in the World Cup qualifiers to knock them out.
“We can be really proud of how the qualifying campaign has gone.”
Following England’s sluggish win over Malta at home last Friday (17 November), manager – Gareth Southgate has opted to make six changes with Fikayo Tomori, Jordan Henderson, Conor Gallagher, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford dropped to the bench.
Kieran Trippier meanwhile withdrew for personal reasons and has been replaced in the starting line-up by debutant, Lewis, whilst Jarrod Bowen was sidelined with a minor knee injury.
Those six changes almost paid off after three minutes as Jack Grealish tried to tee up Ollie Watkins to sweep in, but his pass was blocked by a North Macedonia player.
England continued to quickly dominate and almost scored twice in the space of two minutes as Declan Rice first struck the bottom-right post in the 14th minute, before Watkins headed Phil Foden’s cross wide a minute later.
Harry Maguire however was lucky to not concede a 23rd minute penalty after he brought Elif Elmas down inside the box, only for Slovakian referee – Filip Glova to wave away the host’s penalty appeals.
Glova however awarded North Macedonia a penalty following a Video-Assistant-Referee (VAR) review in the 39th minute, after Lewis had unintentionally elbowed Miovski as he made a headed clearance.
Bardhi stepped up in the 41st minute but his penalty towards the bottom-right corner was saved by Jordan Pickford, yet he was able to react quickest and smashed in the rebounding ball to put the hosts in front.
England weren’t able to respond before half-time as Lewis and Trent Alexander-Arnold both saw shots denied by Stole Dimitrievski, as the hosts held on to their surprise lead into half-time in an improved performance upon their embarrassing loss in Manchester in June.
Neither team made changes at half time but England found an explosive improvement in intensity which almost paid off in the second minute, as Bukayo Saka beat a few defenders and curled across the box for Grealish to flick in but the latter was ruled offside by VAR.
Grealish then found himself fouled by Jovan Manev as he raced through upon goal from Foden’s through ball, yet Glova refused to award a penalty and waved away all appeals.
North Macedonia continued to frustrate England until they conceded a 58th minute corner, from which substitute – Kane flicked into the far-left corner to equalise but Atanasov was credited with an own-goal after he got the final touch upon the ball.
England however continued to lack much end product in another lacklustre display as Saka headed Foden’s 83rd minute cross wide of the top-right corner.
Further issues in England’s end product arose as substitute, Rashford curled a free-kick wide of the top-left corner in injury time to cap a difficult international window for Southgate’s Three Lions where their finishing has been below par despite topping Group C unbeaten.
North Macedonia: Stole Dimitrievski, Jovan Manev, Nikola Serafimov, Viscar Musliu, Bojan Dimoski (Ashkovski 86′), Enis Bardhi, Jani Atanasov, Isnik Alimi (Kostadinov 75′), Ezgjan Alioski, Bojan Miovski (Ristovski 75′), Elif Elmas
Substitutes: Igor Aleksovski, Damjan Shiskovski, Ahmed Iljazovski, Stefan Ashkovski, Arijan Ademi, Darko Churlinov, Dimitar Mitrovski, Tihomir Kostadinov, Agon Elezi, Milan Ristovski, Erdon Daci, Todor Todoroski
England: Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Marc Guehi, Rico Lewis, Trent Alexander-Arnold (Phillips 84′), Declan Rice, Jack Grealish (Palmer 84′), Phil Foden, Ollie Watkins (Kane 58′), Bukayo Saka (Rashford 84′)
Substitutes: Fikayo Tomori, Sam Johnstone, Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips, Conor Gallagher, Ezri Konsa, Marcus Rashford, Cole Palmer, Harry Kane, Aaron Ramsdale
Referee: Filip Glova (Slovakia)