Gareth Southgate refused to condemn Harry Maguire and Nick Pope after their errors handed Germany all three goals in England’s thrilling 3-3 Nations League draw at Wembley on Monday evening.
England head to the World Cup buoyed by their rousing comeback against Germany but a late error by Nick Pope meant under-fire Southgate’s side had to make do with a draw at the end of a frenetic second half.
Among the favourites to triumph in Qatar, having reached the semi-finals four years ago and finished runners-up at last summer’s Euros, hope and optimism has seeped away in recent months after a run of poor results.
England were relegated from the Nations League top tier following Friday’s loss to Italy. And pressure looked set to increase on Southgate, and Harry Maguire, after Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty and a stunning Kai Havertz strike.
But the hosts displayed the kind of resilience and ruthlessness their manager called for in the build-up in front of a sold-out Wembley crowd that did not turn on the group.
Luke Shaw scored England’s first goal from open play in this Nations League campaign to bring hope, with substitute Mason Mount lashing home a leveller eight minutes after they had gone two goals behind.
Wembley was bouncing and the noise went up several notches when Harry Kane slammed home an 83rd-minute penalty following Nico Schlotterbeck’s foul on Jude Bellingham, but there was to be no return to winning ways.
Havertz tapped in after back-up goalkeeper Pope spilled a Serge Gnabry shot, meaning England go to Qatar without a win in six but boosted by a much-needed show of skill and spirit.
Southgate focuses on positives
And speaking after the game, Southgate told Channel 4, when asked about Maguire’s role in Germany’s opener: “It is hard to tell from the side, it is the giving away of possession that is the problem. But look as a group they have really come together this week. It has been a tough period for team but they have grown.
“To an extent we are always going to face pressure so we need to be exposed to pressure. We played a friendly against Ivory Coast in March and they went to 10 men. It became a non-event and we learnt nothing. This week we’ve learnt a huge amount. They’ve had to step forward and come together – it will benefit us in the long run.”
On Nick Pope’s error for the third goal, he added: “It is an error and of course he’s going to be down. But the team has to be together and we have done that all week.
— Channel 4 Sport (@C4Sport) September 26, 2022
“Tonight, in the end, a couple of errors have cost us the goals. But I’ll focus on the fact they played with tremendous spirit and showed a belief that we haven’t shown in the last few games.
“I thought the crowd saw that and rose to that.”
Kane proud of England fightback
Skipper Kane was pleased to see his side get back to playing more like they can, adding: “It was a lot better. I thought we played really well today, we were unfortunate to go 2-0 behind, it was a mistake and then a great goal from the edge of the box.
“We did really well to stay in the game, to get back into it, get into the lead and then unfortunately another error. The mentality and fight of the team was shown out there today. We didn’t get the win but we can be proud of what we did and it puts us in a good place ahead of the World Cup.
“It was nice to score obviously. There always seems to be a few pressure penalties here at Wembley but it was nice to see that one go in and just a shame we couldn’t get the win but we keep going.
“I am proud of the boys and now we have a busy six weeks or so before we get ready for the World Cup.”