Perhaps the most illustrative example of England’s inability in this unsuspecting game was that they only scored their first goal in the 64th minute. The goal came from Trent Alexander-Arnold and for Maltese goalkeeper Henry Bonello it was routine.
England had led since Enrico Pepe scored an own goal in the eighth minute, with Phil Foden the most outstanding player on the pitch. Gareth Southgate’s side don’t need to overwork themselves, however, and they’re not paying much attention to that.
Having already confirmed his qualification for next summer’s European Cup finals, Hazard has already been ruled out of the competition and there is no need to be too angry about failing to score. However, many at Wembley were not relaxed as England simply went with the flow.
It is now almost certain that England will be one of the top seeds in the group stage draw on December 2. Only a nine-goal defeat to North Macedonia in Monday night’s qualifying final could they reach the target Southgate has set for the international break.
In the 28th minute of the game, referee Luis Godinho showed Harry Kane a yellow card for a collision in the penalty area. This made Kane very angry. The impact of this collision with Bonello is known to everyone and obvious. But the England captain was all smiles as he managed to score a second goal after some great teamwork – a goal that stood out because of its entirely new character.
Southgate initially tried a midfield strategy. Jordan Henderson had the ball, with Alexander-Arnold and Connor Gallagher positioned either flanking or higher up the pitch.
Henderson’s performance was less than stellar and he may have faced boos when he was substituted, while Gallagher lamented the missed opportunity. He was substituted at the end of the first half. The death of Alexander-Arnold became a bright spot.
The reports are very strange, but Malta may have scored a goal in the first minute of the game. Matthew Guillaumier dispossessed Gallagher and passed the ball to Teddy Teuma, whose low shot almost deflected past Jordan Pickford. Pass under the pillar. If this was indeed part of England’s script, what followed was even more bizarre.
When Foden first touched the ball, he instinctively sent the ball into the inside right channel and then chased after it. He used flicking to expand the area. He thought he had started a counterattack, but instead of reaching Kane, the ball hit Pepe and flew past Bonello. It can be said that Pepe helped score the Wembley goal.
Foden’s arrival brought skill and explosiveness, but England’s performance in the first half was too flat, lacking accuracy and decisiveness. There was a Mexican wave in the audience and paper airplanes were thrown. Against England, Malta showed they were playing a physical game and although some of the challenges were a little too physical, they held on and made some progress.
A very important topic was raised when Godinho chose to ignore Kane’s request for a penalty. This decision raised doubts and warned that he had gone too far. Bonello was hit hard on a return pass and Kane stepped in, keeping his back leg behind him and waiting for contact with his opponent.
England needed to improve in the second half. Coach Southgate decided to introduce two key players, Kyle Walker and Bukayo Saka, to replace Fikayo Tomori and Gallagher who were originally sent to play at left back. Tomori committed multiple fouls. Marc Guéhi was England’s first choice at the back and was clinical and responsive throughout the game.
Southgate used a starting midfield lineup that was somewhat different from the 4-2-3-1 he has experimented with recently. Due to injuries, Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice did not come on as substitutes until the 61st minute. Southgate was irritated when he saw Malta were able to get around the back of his midfield at times.
It wasn’t a smooth night for Marcus Rashford. He made little headway in his attempt to attack Steve Berger, only to find himself caught between the Maltese captain and Joseph Mbong, who was chasing him. He eventually went down, albeit with impunity. Good thing at least he wasn’t booked and fined.
The situation was exacerbated when Alexander-Arnold touched the ball and rushed forward, but bumped into Rashford who was in the way. Rashford had to receive treatment and was quickly substituted, while Cole Palmer made his first appearance for the national team.
After halftime, Southgate made an adjustment, allowing Foden to play the role of No. 10. After Alexander-Arnold and Walker actively attacked, Foden found Saka for the first time and participated in the second goal. Saka then cleverly passed an unselfish pass to Kane.
Kane did what he was supposed to do, scoring his 62nd goal for England, which was nothing more than routine. Shortly after, Rice attempted his third goal but was blocked. He burst in from the center of the half, took advantage of the opponent’s retreat, cut inside and forced his way into Bonello from outside the penalty area. Unfortunately, however, VAR found his shot to be offside.