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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Wembley Stadium

England fail to fire on a night Wembley paid tribute to one of the greats : Talking points

England's B-string team laboured to a largely unimpressive 2-0 win against Malta to seal first place in their Euro qualification group.

On a night with a glaring absence of jeopardy, another strike from the goal-machine that is Harry Kane was one of the few highlights of a forgettable evening's work. Here we take a look at some of the evening's talking points.

All about Sir Bobby

Wembley actually looked magnificent before kick-off, with the players of both sides lined up on the centre circle applauding the life and times of arguably England's finest ever player.

The lights were dimmed and a subdued light was cast on the middle of the pitch and mosaics spelling out 'Sir Bobby' were held up by fans. Young voices in the crowd were plentiful - lending the air of a friendly international from the 1970s under Alf Ramsey - check it out on YouTube if you are lucky enough to be too young to know.

A tribute from Sir Geoff Hurst was relayed on the big screen. A poignant moment as the sole survivor of the 66 team offered his heartfelt thoughts about his former England team-mate - the man with the thunderbolt shot whose name became known throughout the world. The ambassador. The gentleman. The Munich survivor. It was a touching moment.

Malta's spirit shone

The islanders also lost 2-0 at Wembley a couple of years ago, but when they shipped an own goal through Enrico Pepe after just eight minutes following a burst into the danger zone from Phil Foden, you feared the worst for them - even if the England side was a second string combo.

But they kept driving forward at every opportunity and created openings. They almost scored after 30 seconds too, when Teddy Teuma flashed a powerful drive narrowly past Jordan Pickford's right hand post. They reached half-time only 1-0 down and that was testament to their efforts.

Malta also closed down so well that the Three Lions did not manage a single shot on target before the break. They grew in confidence as the night wore on and were not afraid to pass the ball around. It wasn't until Harry Kane bagged his 62nd England goal on 75 minutes that their hopes were extinguished.

The death of friendlies has been greatly exaggerated

The advent of the Nations League was supposed to herald the death knell for international friendlies, but this came pretty close to it, dead rubber as it was.

With England's qualification for Germany already signed, sealed and delivered following the 3-1 home win over Italy in their last group match, Gareth Southgate could afford to field a very under-strength outfit, which included some of his old favourites like Dean Henderson and Harry Maguire and not generate widespread condemnation.

Once the Sir Bobby tributes had been done, the game came to resemble the non-competitive clash with Australia that preceded the Italy game. Another friendly is planned for March, though it will be against Brazil - a fixture which a crowded calendar will always find time for. Belgium will also visit for a Euro warm up. Who said almost-meaningless clashes were a thing of the past?

Boredom held sway for much of the evening

The biggest cheer of the night came when Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice were introduced. In truth, there was very little for a subdued crowd to get excited about before the late flurry which saw Kane score and Rice find the net - the latter's effort ruled out by VAR.

There were a few Mexican waves and paper airplanes thrown from the stands as the action failed to ignite. Against a country ranked 171st in the world by FIFA - lower than powerhouses such as New Caledonia and Vanuatu - it was a hugely disappointing night for expectant home fans.

Cole Palmer came on for his debut, so for the Chelsea man at least, it may have been all worthwhile. He will no doubt be hoping to feature again on Monday when England conclude their programme with a trip to North Macedonia.


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