North Macedonia 1-1 England

England concluded their UEFA Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw against North Macedonia in front of 27,982 fans at the ToŇ°e Proeski National Arena in Skopje. It was a fairly insipid performance blighted by some poor refereeing but the result was of little importance since England had already secured top spot in Group C.

There were a few changes to the England team following Friday night’s 2-0 win over Malta. Notably, Manchester City’s eighteen year old starlet Rico Lewis was handed a debut at left-back and Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins was given a chance to make an impression up front.

England started reasonably well and almost opened the scoring through Declan Rice when the Arsenal midfielder’s shot beat the ‘keeper but came back off the post. However, they were affording chances to the North Macedonians and were lucky not to concede a penalty when Harry Maguire carelessly gave the ball away and then clattered into Elmas inside the box.

VAR Controversy

North Macedonia were awarded a penalty shortly before half-time, but it was a highly controversial one. Lewis was the unfortunate fall-guy on the end of a poor VAR decision. He had jumped and headed the ball cleanly away from danger but a flailing hand brushed the face on the on-rushing North Macedonian striker Bojan Miovski, who went down clasping his head.

Pickford produced a fine save to deny Enis Bardhi from the spot, but he could only push the ball back out in front of the goal and Bardhi made no mistake with the rebound to give the Macedonians the lead going into the interval.

England thought they had equalised within a couple of minutes of the restart when Saka’s cross was slotted home by Jack Grealish at the far post, but the Manchester City winger was just offside. Inexplicably, a three minute delay to proceedings was required for the VAR officials to arrive at what looked like a fairly clear-cut decision.

Harry Kane was introduced to replace the ineffective Watkins just before the hour mark as England manager Gareth Southgate decided to try and force the issue. They Bayern Munich striker had an instant impact, winning a header from a corner that deflected off Atanasov and into the net for an own goal.

England continued to push for a winner, and Rashford, Phillips and Palmer were brought on with six minutes to go in order to freshen things up but the North Macedonian defence held firm and the game finished a goal apiece.

Heading for the finals in Germany

England topped Group C with twenty points and an unbeaten record of six wins and two draws from their eight qualifying matches, and a goal difference of plus eighteen. They were six points clear of Italy and Ukraine who played out a goalless draw in Germany on the same evening, meaning that the Italians snuck through by the skin of their teeth. England will go into the first pot of seeds for the finals draw that takes place on the 2nd of December.