Southgate hails players' reaction to Euro heartbreak
Gareth Southgate acknowledged he was disappointed not to leave Poland with all three points but praised his players’ mentality after they bounced back from UEFA Euro 2020 heartbreak by securing seven points from a possible nine in September.
Harry Kane’s 41st goal in his 64th appearance for his country looked set to extend the Three Lions’ 100 per cent record in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying and make it 18 points from 18 after six matches.
But Damian Szymanski’s header in the second minute of injury time meant England had to settle for a point at Stadion Narodowy, although the Three Lions still top Group I on 16 points, with Albania second on 12 and Poland on 11.
Southgate told BBC 5Live: “Early in the game, we were a little bit slow to move the ball and Poland pressed us well. We got caught in our own half a couple of times, recovered really well and defended those situations well.
“As the half wore on, I thought we got a grip on the game and we started to gain a little more control without really creating any clear chances, [apart from] probably Harry [Kane]’s header at the far post.
“Second half, we controlled the game from start to finish. If there’s a criticism, it’s that we didn’t make enough clear chances from our possession and at times we didn’t get enough men in the box. While it’s 1-0 you always run the risk of what happened at the end.
“We are clearly disappointed not to get the three points but I have to look at what the players have done across these three matches.
“Given there was no way of knowing how they would respond after the summer, their mentality and application has been really good.”
It was a game full of tenacity and intensity but clear goalscoring opportunities were few and far between in Warsaw.
By the second half, England were controlling possession as they attempted to remain patient and break down the Paulo Sousa’s men.
And the breakthrough eventually came on 72 minutes and once again it was via their captain.
The Spurs striker was given too much space 25 yards from goal and his low, dipping effort curled away from former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and into the bottom corner.
The home side struggled to create chances in the second half but they equalised in dramatic fashion in the second minute of injury-time when Robert Lewandowski’s dinked cross was headed home by Szymanski.
— England (@England) September 8, 2021
Kane said: “It is obviously a tough one to take right at the end there. I thought we handled the game really well because it is not an easy place to come and another tough game.
“We got ourselves ahead and were seeing the game out well. Away from home, sometimes the pressure builds and they put a good cross in and scored a good header. That is football.
“But it has been a great camp for us, we are still four points clear with four games to go.”
England’s next match will be a trip to Andorra on Saturday 9 October for their latest FIFA World Cup qualifier, before fans will be back in Wembley Stadium connected by EE for the visit of Hungary three days later.
The Three Lions have four FIFA World Cup qualifiers remaining, with games against Albania and San Marino to come in November, and Southgate stressed there is still work to be done before the players can be confident they are heading to Qatar next year.
Southgate added: “We have a bit to do. We are four points clear of Albania. We are in a strong position. We wanted to come here and win and be in a position where, really, it was done. We’re not, we’ve still got some work to do, but the players have been outstanding across the week.
“It wasn’t difficult to get them in that place as their response has been fantastic but it could have been very different after the summer.”