England end goal drought in style to draw Nations League thriller with Germany

England 3-3 Germany: Luke Shaw, Mason Mount and Harry Kane turned a 2-0 deficit at Wembley into a 3-2 lead before Germany equalised late on

Miguel Delaney
at Wembley
Monday 26 September 2022 22:01 BST

If it’s difficult to know how to feel after that, perhaps that’s the point. England felt something again. They scored again. They played with some freedom again. They offered a vision of what they can be, if also a reminder that there are recurring issues.

It was much the same for Germany team, which was maybe why a draw in its own enjoyably convoluted way ended up suiting everyone in this last match before the World Cup.

Many could point to problems, but both managers could ultimately point to comebacks and shows of character.

Germany enjoyed a very late equaliser to salvage the Nations League point. England enjoyed a return from 2-0 down and a concerted period where they looked like a convincing team again.

There was vindication for Gareth Southgate if not victory.

England’s first goal showed how the wing-backs in this divisive formation should really work, as Luke Shaw finished off Reece James’ cross. The second goal showed how the manager can read a game to make the right subs, as Bukayo Saka combined with Mason Mount.

The uncharitable interpretation of that might be that he had to rectify his own errors - among them the selection of Harry Maguire. The more positive spin is that, just as Southgate has insisted on backing his centre-back, this team are certainly playing for their manager.

That will perhaps be the strongest feeling of all.

It all came amid an admittedly strange but enjoyable match, stretched and contorted by multiple competing forces - not least the sequence of the goals. It was a Nations League game that meant little, but also a final World Cup build-up game that meant a lot… eight weeks out from the tournament.

Shaw scored England’s first goal to vindicate Southgate’s wing-back system

Both managers clearly wanted a good result to restore momentum, but there was only occasionally momentum to general play. The first half looked like what it was: a lot of Premier League and Bundesliga players with their minds on bigger things, not least keeping sharp for the World Cup itself.

Other than one admittedly exceptional Shaw ball, very little even happened.

It was especially notable from the wing-back since he isn’t currently being picked for his club team, and because of what happened with his fellow United sub.

Many might say it was Maguire doing this sort of thing that got him dropped in the first place, but the further problem for Southgate is that a lack of first-team football makes his centre-half even more of an uncertainty.

You can’t bank that he won’t be affected by being on the bench, since you just don’t get to see him regularly. It certainly seems more likely that he won’t be up to the pace of attackers like Jamal Musiala.

The German revelation was literally too quick for him, performing on another level. He just confounded Maguire. It made it all the more surprising that referee Danny Makkelie was so slow to award the penalty. Ilkay Gundogan put it in the corner.

It wasn’t to be the only tie Maguire struggled with the pace of the game, which considerably quickened after the penalty.

That was as much as anything down to the fact England were desperate not to suffer another defeat, although stepping out did initially cause problems.

Substitute Timo Werner twice got in only to illustrate the classic lack of clinical edge to his own game. Maguire again gave the ball away, only for Kai Havertz to so precisely send it in off the post from distance.

Maguire gave away the Germany penalty by fouling Jamal Musiala

There was a genuine impetus behind England by then, though. The tone of the game had changed. Something had been released. The wide players were now wing-backs rather than full-backs and it was certainly not a back five.

That was so thrillingly illustrated by England’s first goal, a surging sweeping move that saw James send the ball over to Shaw, who controlled and finished in a manner not dissimilar from his goal at the other end in the Euro 2020 final.

England now had more than a goal. They had the excitement of the crowd to go with their momentum, and a flurry that was so different to everything that come before. There was also the difference made by Southgate’s subs. Saka showed he should maybe be used much further forward as he carved out the opening, before Mount offered the kind of finish we haven’t seen enough of in his game of late.

It was then as if England were on a wave, as Jude Bellingham surfed Nico Schlotterback’s challenge, before the defender went through him. It was as obvious a penalty as Germany’s, and inevitable that Kane would score.

A comeback potentially sparking a turn-around would have been the perfect storyline and send-off, but there was one more twist to slightly subdue things. Nick Pope fumbled and Havertz, again, was there to finish.

Other than the questions about the sub goalkeeper, though, perhaps that is in its own way good for Southgate.

The match offered a reminder of his side's qualities, as well as their issues. It also offered a bit of energy, and electricity. Perhaps that's the most important thing, ahead of the manager's wait until the World Cup.

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