England vs Switzerland result: Gareth Southgate’s side win on penalties to finish third in Nations League

Switzerland 0-0 England (5-6 on penalties): Jordan Pickford’s acrobatic save clinched victory for England

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Estádio D. Afonso Henriques
Sunday 09 June 2019 16:52
Switzerland v England: Nations League match preview

Last year fourth, this year third. England’s Nations League campaign ended in success, of sorts, with bronze medals for the players after they beat Switzerland on penalties. Which is one step better than they did against Belgium in Russia last year. The first medals of the Gareth Southgate era have been secured.

There was a special enjoyment too, from the fact that this game was won by a gleeful penalty shoot-out, 11 perfect kicks before Jordan Pickford saved from Josip Drmic to win the game. Pickford had already taken a penalty himself, thumping it past Yann Sommer, the fifth of England’s five. It was that sort of afternoon.

And the penalties were great fun, after two hours of tepid non-committal football. But it was impossible to ignore the overwhelming feeling of triviality, of casual end-of-term sloppiness about the whole thing. At no point did it feel as if the players or fans were especially invested in finishing third rather than fourth. There was no spark to the game or buzz or drive, and no-one looked interested enough to do anything to stop it from going to extra-time.

So on the game drifted through 90 minutes and 120 minutes, like a rudderless ship. Eventually it came to penalty kicks, the first time for England since Colombia in Moscow last June. But there was none of the sickening tension of that night here, and even when England won the celebrations were hardly comparable.

The whole occasion was as flat as you would expect for a game that could have been cancelled without much complaint. There were half as many England fans here as there were on Thursday night, and half as much noise. That night felt like a real tournament game, high stakes buzz until England folded at the end. But this was just a friendly. The fans were upbeat rather than tense, always behind the team but seemingly concerned with celebrating their new cult hero Harry Maguire, cheering every time he got his large head on the ball.

And if the players were motivated by the prospect of picking up their third-placed medals after the game, they did not look it. They looked more concerned by getting through the game, flying back this evening and then finally heading off on holiday tomorrow, 10 months after the start of this exhausting season.

The first half set the tone for how bad the rest of the game would be. The play was slow and every moment of physical contact was penalised by the referee Ovidiu Hategan. There was no opportunity for the game to develop any flow or momentum. The whole thing felt far flatter than England’s third-placed play-off defeat to Belgium at the World Cup, which at least had the gravitas bestowed by the presence of those brilliant Belgium players, and the futuristic St Petersburg stadium. This had none of that. It felt more like the friendly defeat of Switzerland in Leicester last September, but with less drama, quality and tension.

The only England player who really shone was the man Southgate was hoping to learn the most from: Trent Alexander-Arnold. He is now in a straight fight with Kyle Walker for the right-back spot, and having been so important to Liverpool’s Champions League win, he might just have the edge. Walker started here on Thursday but made one bad slip, and this was Alexander-Arnold’s chance to make his own case. And he did, putting in two perfect first-half crosses that should have been assists. Only for Sterling to miss-kick at the near post, and then Dele Alli to put his free header over the bar.

Jordan Pickford makes the winning save

Joe Gomez, the other Liverpool defender starting here, can be almost as pleased with his own performance. He has the chance to secure a place in the England team over the next 12 months, especially with John Stones out of favour at Manchester City and struggling for confidence. Here, Gomez looked calm in defence and comfortable on the ball, taking risks but getting it right. He did not look like a man who is still finding his way after five months out with a broken leg.

The second half was only slightly better than the first. There was slightly more goal-mouth action: Fabian Schar deflected a Danny Rose onto his own post, Jordan Pickford had to dive to keep out a Granit Xhaka shot. But these were brief flickers of good football, and the overall picture was dark.

Dele Alli applauds England’s travelling fans after the game

Even when it felt, for one thrilling minute, as if England had won the game and secured those third-placed medals, that too was stolen away. When Callum Wilson bundled in but was then told that he had fouled a Swiss defender in the build-up. So England had to go through extra-time for the second time in four days, this time with far less motivation to win the game, and less energy in their legs.

Even through the fatigue, they continued to create chances. Another brilliant Alexander-Arnold curler, this time from the left, led to Yann Sommer double save from Alli’s header and Sterling’s follow-up. Sterling got even closer than that, hitting the bar with a clever free-kick with three minutes left. Only during the penalty shoot-out would the ball start going into the goal.

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