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21st November 2019

International break: England’s 1,000th game

Will Stonier analyses a mixed international break for the Three Lions
International break: England’s 1,000th game
Photo: Keith Williamson @ flickr

From the first international game in 1872, to ‘it’ officially coming home in 1966. From the heartbreak and tears of the 1990s, to the jubilation of that David Beckham ripper against Greece. From Sven Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello, to things better left unsaid about Steve McClaren and Sam Allardyce. The spirit of the England men’s team has been inflected a myriad of emotions as it reached its 1,000 international game this November against Montenegro at Wembley.

Manager Gareth Southgate visited Manchester’s National Football Museum as they unveiled their new display, a celebration of the iconic moments that have defined the men’s national team. 

Though the occasion had an aura of nostalgia and optimism for that which is still to come for Southgate’s young side, the anniversary functioned as a minor subplot. Much of the focus was instead shifted to the training ground skirmish leading up to the fixture – a fracas ignited by Raheem Sterling involving England teammate Joe Gomez following on from Manchester City’s defeat to Liverpool, on the Sunday prior to the national team training sessions the next day.

Sterling was disciplined, dropped, and replaced by Jadon Sancho — Sancho, nonetheless, had been substituted after only 36 minutes in Borussia Dortmund’s defeat to Bayern Munich. 

England’s victory was comprehensive and, apart from forcing a few rudimentary saves from Jordan Pickford, Montenegro were toothless. Harry Kane’s hat trick means he surpasses the likes of Frank Lampard, and eclipses Vivian Woodward’s record as most goals scored by an England captain.

The scoring was opened by a fit and inform Oxlade-Chamberlain, before a blistering double from Harry Kane. Goals seemed no issue for England in the first half, with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford also getting on the score sheet.

The second half was much more muted, with Aleksandar Šofranac scoring an own goal before Tammy Abraham finished off the 7-0 battering by scoring his first international goal.

A key talking point of the game involved the substitution involving Joe Gomez onto the pitch — a decision greeted by boos by a minority of the large Wembley crowd — which was immediately met with disdain by Sterling on Twitter.

Sterling, nonetheless, was reintroduced to the starting XI for the match in Kosovo the following Sunday. England fans found themselves warmly welcomed by the Kosovo fans who held up placards of the St. George’s Cross during the singing of ‘God Save The Queen’, a display of allegiance between the two nations following British military involvement with Kosovo’s liberation from Serbia in 1999.

The first half performance was muted on both sides — with only a single goal, from man of the match Harry Winks, splitting the two sides. But the end of the second half featured a flourish of goals by Kane and Rashford, with Mason Mount scoring the fourth and final goal for England in stoppage time. 

Both matches were ruthless performances by an England team that, in Southgate’s own words, are ‘further ahead’ than where the team was in the qualifying stages for the 2018 World Cup. Whether or not his statement is true or just an optimistic fallacy on Southgate’s behalf remains to be seen with all the pressure now on Southgate to deliver at Euro 2020.

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