Harry Maguire bailed out what looked set to be a costly John Stones error as the Manchester United defender scored England’s late winner in a 2-1 victory over Poland on Wednesday.
Gareth Southgate’s men, who had begun a new World Cup qualifying campaign with wins over San Marino and Albania, just about did enough against a Poland side without the injured Robert Lewandowski.
The Three Lions were good value for their lead amid a commanding first-half display, Harry Kane becoming England’s all-time leading penalty scorer on 10 as he converted after fine play by Raheem Sterling.
Stones gifted Poland a chance that Jakub Moder capitalised on in the 58th minute, though he played an important role as Maguire’s goal maintain England’s unblemished start in Group I.
100 – Excluding own goals, England have now scored 105 goals under Gareth Southgate, with Harry Kane’s the 100th by players under 30 years of age; indeed, each of England’s last 81 goals have been scored by under 30s, since Gary Cahill netted against Nigeria in June 2018. Fresh. pic.twitter.com/QzhU9aztbj
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 31, 2021
England played the ball around with swagger during the early exchanges and almost opened the scoring in the eighth minute, only for Phil Foden to head Ben Chilwell’s cross over after Mason Mount carved the Poland defence open.
Nevertheless, England did not have to wait much longer to take the lead, Kane confidently dispatching a penalty having seen the lively Sterling clumsily tripped by Michal Helik.
Kane was then denied a second just past the half-hour mark, latching on to Foden’s clever first-time offload and forcing Wojciech Szczesny into an applaudable save down to his right from 20 yards.
But England were pegged back before the hour, Stones – who had put England in trouble a few minutes earlier only to be bailed out by Nick Pope – was robbed just outside his own penalty and Moder applied an emphatic finish after being fed by substitute Arkadiusz Milik.
England’s response was meek, the home side’s urgency showing little sign of improvement as the seconds ticked away – Foden’s weak right-footed shot in the 69th minute causing Szczesny no bother.
There was to be a final hurrah for the hosts, however, as Stones made up for his earlier blunder by heading a corner delivery back into the danger zone and Maguire smashed past the helpless Szczesny to seal the points.
What does it mean? Three Lions tame despite victory
England appeared to be in complete control at half-time, with Poland arguably fortunate to only be trailing 1-0 with the home team enjoying 68.9 per cent of the possession. They were dominant.
But there was much less urgency and direction to England’s play in the second period, until they had to desperately seek out a late winner. They were guilty of easing off too much at 1-0 and it nearly backfired.
As it happened, they got the job done – but it was by no means convincing against unremarkable opponents who were without their best player.
Rice an effective shield
Stones’ error aside, Poland hardly threatened at all. Part of that was down to Declan Rice’s strong showing in front of the back four, his match-high five tackles showing how he broke down the play to good effect. He also gained possession (12) more times than anyone else on the pitch and showed his competitive streak by winning 77.8 per cent of his duels – no other player involved in more than two got over 70 per cent.
Although he was bright early on and won a penalty, Sterling never quite hit the heights his encouraging start suggested he might reach. The Manchester City winger only attempted one shot – which was blocked – and did not create a single opportunity. A little added impetus from him in the second half might have prevented the need for a desperate late surge.
20 – England have now won each of their last 20 home qualifying matches for the EUROs/World Cup, in a run stretching back to October 2012. Building. pic.twitter.com/VlnLlBQloz
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 31, 2021
– Poland lost for only the third time in their last 26 qualifying matches for the EUROs/World Cup (W19 D4).
– England have only lost one of their 20 matches against Poland (W12 D7) and are unbeaten in their last 17 against them.
– This was Kane’s first goal for England on a Wednesday, becoming the third Three Lions player to score on all seven days (Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney).
– Moder’s goal was the first shot on target England had faced in this World Cup qualifying campaign.
– Stones registered only his third assist in 324 senior matches for club and country. It was his first since an FA Cup tie against Port Vale in January 2020.
Both teams return to action in early June with pre-Euro 2020 friendlies, but their World Cup qualification campaigns do not resume until September when England go to Hungary and Poland host Albania.