England 2–1 Switzerland
- England recovered from a sloppy start to beat Switzerland in their first game of a World Cup year
- Harry Kane scored the winner, converting from the spot after VAR awarded a second-half penalty
England versus Switzerland on a Saturday afternoon is about as new Wembley as it gets. The only thing missing was a professional England performance for everyone to savour and, by tomorrow, forget. Harry Kane’s penalty winner ensured England broke the record for their longest-ever unbeaten run, 21 matches, but few will be forgetting this performance in a hurry — for all the wrong reasons.
Gareth Southgate’s side coped so well with Euros heartache by knuckling down in the autumn and qualifying for the World Cup unbeaten. The same cannot be said for their conquerors Italy, the European champions inexplicably losing to North Macedonia last week and failing to reach consecutive World Cups for the first time ever.
The side that topped their group: Switzerland. Here, you could see how they’d done so. The Swiss are a wise side in international football. They’re ranked 14th in the world and qualify for every tournament. They are perhaps the best example of a unit whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts; having a tight-knit core of squad members has paid dividends.Embed from Getty Images
Gareth Southgate has tried to instil the same consistency and club feel in his team. But with so many drop-outs, injuries and players out of form, this was an experimental England. The opening 20 minutes showed — as England struggled for cohesion and direction in a 3-5-2 system they haven’t used since 2018.
England’s nondescript start eventually abated, but in the worst possible way. Granit Xhaka of Arsenal stung the gloves of Jordan Pickford with a low driven shot, and before you knew it, the Swiss had repurposed the ball and nudged themselves ahead in this friendly.
Former Liverpool and Stoke City playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri teed himself up and crossed meanly into the box from the right side with his left. Forward Breel Embolo got between debutant Kyle Walker-Peters and Arsenal’s Ben White, a last-minute replacement for John Stones who injured himself in the warm-up. Embolo glanced a smart header back across the goal. Wembley fell silent as England fell behind.
Midfield disruptor Xhaka told EnglandFootball.org on Friday: “England have a very strong team with a lot of young players as well as the experienced players they have. But we have to look at ourselves, and try and cope with England.” They were more than coping. Within a minute they nearly doubled their lead when Shaqiri’s shot went for a corner. His subsequent delivery saw a Fabian Frei volley expertly tipped against the crossbar by Pickford. The Three Lions were on the ropes. A one-goal deficit flattered them.Embed from Getty Images
England’s new-look back-three of White, Conor Coady and another debutant, Marc Guéhi looked exactly what it was: inexperienced and makeshift. These are excellent players individually, but they didn’t gel well at all.
But as the board went up for two added minutes at the end of the half, Walker-Peters cut out a sloppy Frei pass, and set Crystal Palace’s Conor Gallagher on his way towards goal. Gallagher squared, Mount dummied, and the onrushing Luke Shaw rifled the ball into the net in a fashion not dissimilar from his second-minute opener in the Euro 2020 final all those many months ago. 1–1 and parity at the halfway stage.
England didn’t as much up the tempo in the second half as Switzerland’s threat fizzle out somewhat. Harry Kane was put in by a cute Gallagher dink, only for goalkeeper Jonas Omlin to block with his head. The inevitable raft of substitutions followed, reminding everyone that this was indeed ‘just a friendly’. Another debutant — another Palace player — entered the field. Goalscorer Shaw made way for 22-year-old Tyrick Mitchell at left-back. He grew up in Wembley, and played youth football for non-league side AFC Wembley. Full circle. Or should that be full arch?
Then, on 76 minutes, the referee paused play after an England corner, checked VAR, and awarded England a lifeline they didn’t merit one bit. Substitute Steven Zuber had blocked a Guéhi header with his outstretched arm.Embed from Getty Images
Throughout the early afternoon, as supporters made the walk down Wembley Way, the Wembley preacher had cried: “Call on him now while he is near.” Kane was near, and wanted the penalty for himself. But he was also near to another England milestone. He could move past Gary Lineker and level with the nation’s second-top-scorer Bobby Charlton here. He whistled the ball into the corner with another of his predictably unsavable penalties. 49 goals in 68 caps. Not too shabby.
Coady was denied by the goalkeeper with a late header as England finished strongly, but Kane had scored the game’s winner, settling the nerves as well as the result. This was not vintage England by any means. A victory should not blur that fact. They’re back here on Tuesday to face the Ivory Coast, where they’ll be hoping for a much more assured display. At times, this made for bleak viewing.