England labour to 2-0 win over Malta at Wembley
England 2 (Pepe 8 og, Kane 75)
Paper aeroplanes and Mexican waves are rarely a good sign at Wembley.
And they were out in abundance this evening as the fans at the national stadium looked for alternative entertainment during England’s laboured 2-0 win over Malta - a team ranked 171st in the world, below Vanuatu and Chinese Taipei in FIFA’s official rankings.
The goals came in the form of an unfortunate own goal from Enrico Pepe after eight minutes, and Harry Kane’s 62nd for England, after 75.
England had of course already qualified for next summer’s European Championships in Germany.
And it showed. The paper aeroplanes were cruising over the hallowed turf long before England’s first shot on goal, which came after more than an hour – the first time the Three Lions had taken as long to registerer a pot shot in a home international in more than six years.
In fact Malta very nearly produced their own San Marino moment, Teddy Teuma shooting just wide of Jordan Pickford’s goal when well placed on the edge of the box after just 30 seconds.
It didn’t take too long for the Three Lions to take the lead. Phil Foden found a burst of energy down the right, found by Marc Guehi’s pass. Foden got in behind his defender and his low cross was turned into his own net by the unfortunate Pepe, via the crossbar and goalkeeper Henry Bonello, who gave his defender the dirtiest of looks, as if he wasn’t embarrassed enough already.
Kane had a shout for a penalty on the half-hour, but referee Luis Godinho had other ideas. Bonello surrendered possession to Kane, but instead of taking the ball round the goalkeeper, the former Spurs man left his left leg dangling as Bonello made his challenge.
The ref saw it as cheating, awarded a free-kick to Malta and promptly booked Kane for diving.
England’s play was bitty, slow and they created little. The had another shout for a penalty just before the hour, but this one looked even less a spot-kick than Kane’s. Marcus Rashford blocked by Maltese skipper Steve Borg – the referee again awarding a free-kick to the visitors.
England finally managed a shot on goal in the 64th minute, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s effort from the edge of the box, which was easily saved by Bonello, drawing ironic cheers from the crowd.
The second finally came after 75 minutes. Foden played Bukayo Saka in down the right and Saka’s cross was turned in by Harry Kane.
A minute later Declan Rice thought he had made it 3-0, side stepping Borg and planting a shot beyond Bonello, but VAR chalked it off for offside, Kane adjudged to have been standing in a position impeding the view of the goalkeeper.
Malta nearly grabbed a goal of their own on 83 minutes, and they really did deserve it, substitute Zac Muscat lacking the composure to finish when reasonably well-placed on the right of the box.
Malta will fly home to Valletta proud of their performance. England’s lead at the top of this group extends to six points with one game to go, against North Macedonia on Monday.
England: Pickford, Trippier, Tomori (Saka h/t), Gallagher (Walker h/t), Guehi, Maguire, Foden, Henderson, Kane, Alexander-Arnold, Rashford (Palmer 61)
Malta: Bonello, Camenzuli, Borg, Guillaumier, Mbong, Teuma, Pepe, Reid, Yankam, Borg. (Rice
Pictured top: Tribute to the late Bobby Charlton before the game (Picture: Charlie Stong)