In a less-than-convincing display, England secured a victory over Malta at Wembley, further bolstering their aspirations of being seeded for the upcoming Euro 2024 next summer. The already-qualified England side, under the management of Gareth Southgate, faced off against a Malta team ranked 171st in the world.
The lone goal of the match came in the eighth minute when Phil Foden’s skillful pull-back was inadvertently directed into the net by Malta defender Enrico Pepe. Despite the early advantage, England struggled to make an impact, failing to register a single shot on target in the opening hour.
It wasn’t until the 75th minute that England exhibited a glimpse of quality, sealing the victory with a goal from captain Harry Kane. The decisive play unfolded in a well-coordinated passing sequence involving Kyle Walker, Foden, and Bukayo Saka, ultimately setting up Kane for his 62nd international goal.
Although Declan Rice appeared to add a third goal with a superbly curled shot into the bottom corner, VAR intervened, ruling out the goal due to Kane’s offside position, obstructing the goalkeeper’s line of sight.
Making his debut in the second half, Chelsea forward Cole Palmer took the field in a packed national stadium. Despite having already qualified for Euro 2024 with two games to spare, England’s seeding for the tournament remains uncertain, with only five of the 10 group winners, alongside the hosts, earning the coveted seed status in next month’s draw.
England will conclude their qualifying campaign with a match against North Macedonia on Monday, where a draw would secure their position as a top seed.
Malta, having not won in 16 successive European Championship qualifiers and losing all seven of their previous Group C matches, posed minimal threat to the fourth-ranked England. The visitors had only managed one goal in their four encounters with England, a historic own goal by goalkeeper Richard Wright in a friendly match back in June 2000.
Despite an early scare from Malta, where Teddy Teuma’s low strike narrowly missed the target, England took the lead through Foden’s initiative. However, the anticipated goal rush from the home side did not materialize.
England’s record scorer, Harry Kane, found himself denied a penalty after an apparent foul by Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello. To Kane and Southgate’s surprise, referee Luís Miguel Branco Godinho issued a yellow card for diving.
With key players like Jude Bellingham and James Maddison unavailable due to injury, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold stepped into the midfield role, showcasing versatility beyond his regular right-back position. Despite a purposeful run by Foden, the first half concluded with neither side managing a shot on target.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, granted a rare start, also had a penalty appeal waved off after being blocked by Malta defender Steve Borg within the 18-yard area. However, Rashford struggled to create further opportunities.
Alexander-Arnold finally registered England’s first shot on target in the 63rd minute, shooting straight at Bonello. The discontent among England fans was evident as paper airplanes were thrown onto the pitch in protest of the team’s lackluster performance.
In a rare moment of brilliance, England secured their second goal with Kane finishing off a beautifully executed team play. The largely forgettable performance was punctuated by this bright spot.
Tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton
The evening at Wembley carried emotional undertones as fans, players, and coaching staff paid tribute to the late Sir Bobby Charlton, who passed away at the age of 86 on October 21. Sir Bobby, a legendary figure in English football, scored 49 goals in 106 international matches and played a crucial role in England’s 1966 World Cup victory.
Before kick-off, a poignant video showcasing Sir Bobby’s career highlights was played in the stadium’s darkness, with all England players wearing black armbands. The fans, in a touching moment, spelled out ‘Sir Bobby’ during a minute’s applause, with Wembley illuminated solely by a spotlight on the players in the center circle.
Speaking after the match, Kane expressed his sentiments, saying, “Sir Bobby was one of England’s best-ever players, and the tribute was fantastic. He will be missed throughout the whole country. We wanted to win because of that, and I was desperate to score because of that. To say goodbye and win the match at Wembley is a nice thing to do.”