England gained four points from a possible six in their opening UEFA Nations League fixtures against Iceland and Denmark this week.
Gareth Southgate’s side narrowly defeated Iceland 1-0 on Saturday before labouring to a 0-0 draw against Denmark last night where they registered just six shots on goal.
England’s lack of cutting edge was reflected by their long wait for a shot on target, which eventually came in the 70th minute of the match. It was the longest time taken for the Three Lions to register a shot on goal since the 0-0 draw with Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup.
Captain Harry Kane almost won the game for England in the dying seconds. Kane rounded Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but his shot was cleared off the line by Mathias Jorgensen.
The chance was a rare bright spark across the two matches where England failed to create chances and looked low on fitness, often slowing down promising attacks with short passing and little movement.
Against Iceland, it was a similar story. England rarely threatened and were left frustrated by Iceland’s rigid defence. Only Raheem Sterling’s late penalty in the 91st minute was enough to spare England’s blushes.
Southgate faced criticism over the negativity of his tactics during both games despite the number of creative players available. The likes of Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho looked isolated for the majority of both games.
In reply, following the draw with Denmark, Southgate explained the match conditions and fitness levels of the players had more of an impact on the results as opposed to his team selection
He said: “In the first game, there was just no space at all and the physical conditioning of the players and the lack of training time and the lack of match minutes was a huge factor.”
“To get through the two games the way the players have at this stage of the season, we shouldn’t really have been playing frankly, it doesn’t work for the clubs and it doesn’t work for the product of international football. It’s not ideal for any of the players but the games went ahead and I really have to praise the effort and the endeavour of the players enormously.”
A big positive across the two matches came from the number of young players making debuts for England. Four players earned their first caps against Denmark last night, the most amount since 1962, and two players featured for the first time against Iceland.
Kalvin Philips (Leeds United) and defender Conor Coady (Wolverhampton Wanderers) started for England against Denmark while late substitutes Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Arsenal) also made their maiden appearances for the Three Lions.
But, there was controversy surrounding the remaining two debutantes from the Iceland fixture.
Mason Greenwood (Manchester United) and Phil Foden (Manchester City) were sent home and fined £1,360 after breaking COVID-19 quarantine guidelines in Iceland. The young players met with two women in a separate part of the hotel in Rekjavik where the England squad and staff were staying, breaching the Coronavirus safety rules in place.
On the situation, Southgate explained how both players made an error, but the England manager was also conscious of the support the two players require to move on from the event.
He said: “I’ve got a lot to think about. Trust needs to be re-built and that takes time. I think with both of the boys, there needs to be a consequence of what happened and then we’ve got to try and help them to rebuild.”
Southgate was full of praise for the rest of the England players for their professionalism during the matches and remained upbeat about the remainder of the Nations League campaign.
He said: “I’m really pleased with what the players who are here have given. it’s a great credit to them. We take four points back, of course, everybody would like six and we nearly had that with the chance at the end, but it’s in our hands now with the games at Wembley.”
England face Wales in their next international friendly on October 10 before they host Belgium and Denmark in their next two Nations League fixtures.