England's reliance on Harry Kane laid bare in drab North Macedonia draw

Harry Kane's presence helps force an own goal
Harry Kane's presence helps force an own goal - Getty Images/Alex Grimm

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an England team (hoping to be) in possession of good fortune, must be in want of Harry Kane. In other words, if England have any hope of winning the European Championships next summer then they must pray that their captain stays fit.

It was Pep Guardiola who labelled Tottenham Hotspur the “Harry Kane team” and although that caused offence at the time it is indisputable that, despite their riches of talent, and the absence of the also priceless Jude Bellingham, England are undeniably still the Harry Kane team.

Goodness how they laboured at times and despite dominating against a highly committed but relatively limited North Macedonia – brushed aside 7-0 last June at Old Trafford lest it be forgotten – until Kane stepped off the substitutes’ bench. Precisely 42 seconds later he forced England’s equalising goal from a corner and transformed the mood.

That was some impact even if, ultimately, the Bayern Munich striker could not do enough to win the game. But at least Kane saved it by attacking the ball and panicking Macedonian defender Jani Atanasov who inadvertently flicked it off his shoulder and into the net.

In truth it was not a good night for Ollie Watkins, who started instead of Kane, and should really be well placed to deputise for him but was unconvincing. Neither Callum Wilson nor Dominic Calvert-Lewin have seized their chances, or can stay fit enough, so maybe Ivan Toney comes even more into the reckoning when he returns from his ban for betting in January?

England's reliance on Harry Kane laid bare
Ollie Watkins struggled against North Macedonia's defence - Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski

It was the first time in more than two years, since October 2021, that Kane has not started a competitive match for England and how he will have looked on hungrily as Watkins wasted two early chances – failing to connect properly with a close-range shot and miscuing a free header – and the Aston Villa striker had not even taken his seat on the bench before Kane saved the day.

And so Watkins, despite Gareth Southgate’s protestations, disappointed but he was not alone as England completed their qualification campaign in something of a drab fashion even if they battled against a poor referee, a hard and difficult pitch and a packed and uncompromising Macedonian defence.

Even so Trent Alexander-Arnold’s extended audition for a midfield role fell flat; Jack Grealish was ineffective and Harry Maguire was poor in possession and unsure out of it.

There were shining lights, beyond Kane and also Marc Guehi and not least Rico Lewis, just 19 on Tuesday, who made his debut at left-back, moving immediately into midfield at kick-off, and while the Manchester City defender was hugely unfortunate to concede a first-half penalty, after a highly contentious Var review, he did not let it affect an assured performance.

“He was excellent,” Southgate argued. “His performance and then his reaction at what I know must have been a disappointment for him. His composure with the ball was outstanding. Great resilience but we didn’t feel he had anything to come back from.”

England's reliance on Harry Kane laid bare
Rico Lewis was named England's Player of the Match award - Getty Images/Eddie Keogh

While Lewis was harshly punished after his hand brushed against the face of striker Bojan Miovski as he headed clear – with Enis Bardhi slamming home the rebound when Jordan Pickford saved his penalty – England were already lucky not to have conceded another spot-kick as Southgate acknowledged.

“I didn’t think it was a penalty,” he said before adding: “The one before might have been so maybe that evened itself out.” Pressed on the penalty given Southgate added: “I have zero to say about it which probably tells you everything.”

True, but, as he said, he knows Maguire got away with one after giving the ball away carelessly and then falling awkwardly into Eljif Elmas inside the area. It somehow went unpunished and it was an undoubted let-off for England and for Maguire and it was also exactly the kind of mistake they cannot afford to make in Germany next year.

England have made light work or reaching the Euros, witness the struggles of the holders Italy to get through on goal difference in the same group, and that should never be overlooked and Southgate was understandably keen to make that point.

“The really big results were in March, winning in Italy and the result against Ukraine,” he rightly stated although his claim that the performance here was “good” really lacked objective evidence. “If you said at the start of the campaign we would be eight wins and two draws it would be a pretty good record. We can now start to look forward,” Southgate added.

Fair enough. But having hoped to come through unscathed, on a dodgy pitch, in terms of injury, England did suffer from a little wounded pride and it is becoming a concern as to how few chances they are creating.

Of course they did not lose and, again, that should not be overlooked and coming back away from home and following the penalty showed resilience but, as against Malta last Friday when they also benefitted from an own goal, it was not great.

There was more to agree with in Southgate’s claim that England had already bought themselves the time to experiment a little, and give minutes to virtually the whole of the squad during these pair of qualifiers, but did any of those experiments really work?

Maybe it would have been easier had Watkins taken that headed chance, in particular, or a shot by Declan Rice had rebounded off the post and into the goal rather than back out before England fell behind. Instead despite their dominance they allowed Macedonia back into the game and they really cannot do that against better things and if they are to triumph at the Euros. And, in the biggest lesson that was reinforced, neither can they afford to be without Kane.


England held by North Macedonia, as it happened


10:12 PM GMT

England finish the group top and will be seeded

Not a great result on the night but immaterial in the long run. Jason Burt’s match report will appear above. Cheers.


10:10 PM GMT

Gareth Southgate

“The really big results were in March. Winning in Italy, the result against Ukraine.

“Given that we had already qualified I thought the mentality of the players was excellent. Quality on the ball was good. Very difficult pitch. Hard to find the final pass.

“Rico was excellent. Composure with the ball. His response to the really, really harsh setback.

“Mark G has been excellent, composure, taken his club form into internationals.

“The next excitement is the draw, see our path. Trent excellent in midfield, used the ball well. Rico and Palmer coming in... a lot for me to think of.”

“With 23 man squad you cannot take the gambles on injuries that you can with a 26 man squad. Tough calls. But the best players become fairly evident.”


10:05 PM GMT

England end the year unbeaten

they’ve romped home in this group with 20 points from eight games and they will be in the pot of top seeds for the draw next month.


10:03 PM GMT

Rico Lewis and Kyle Walker on C4

KW: “After already qualifying, was always going to be tough to come here. We dug in. Things happen in football that I don’t think are fair. The man to my right received an unfair decision there.

RL: “Overall very happy, unfortunate with the result and the decision against me.”

KW: “Rico showed his qualities, he is a great lad. Congratulations.”

RL: “All I can do is focus on myself and what I can do to get better.”

KW: “Been a short week. Two games where we had already qualified. You have to look at it a bit differently. Fantastic day for me and my family (captain today).”


09:53 PM GMT

Joe Cole

“It must be frustrating for Gareth, you prepare everything well and then the ref has a howler. It’s not a harsh penalty, it was just wrong.”


09:52 PM GMT

Harry Kane

“Difficult game, difficult pitch to play our style of football. 1-0 behind against the run of play and a soft penalty but we came back well. If anyone looked like scoring it was.

“We wanted to finish with a win. I know people expect us to beat these teams six nil but these did a job on Italy, so....

“Rico can be proud of his debut, sure he will continue to work hard and be back with us.”


09:44 PM GMT

Full time: North Macedonia 1 England 1

Not a great performance for England but they remain unbeaten, they top the group, and avoiding defeat means that they will be one of the best five group winners and hence a top seed for the main draw. Not a performance to inspire but given the pitch and the iffy officiating, good enough. Italy managed to draw with Ukraine but finish second due to the head-to-head.


09:42 PM GMT

90+ mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

Walker with a cross, Kane up for it, but not even close to threatening the goal.


09:41 PM GMT

90+ mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

England well settled in the NM half. Can they find a bit of quality?

Rasfhord tries to cross but fails to beat the first man.


09:37 PM GMT

90+ mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

There will be six minutes of injury time. Marcus Rashford has a dibble from a direct free kick. Hits it well enough but always going wide.


09:34 PM GMT

87 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

North Macedonia get a decent ball into the box and the effort lands on the roof of the net. JP had that well covered to be fair.


09:30 PM GMT

84 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

Few changes for England. Saka, Grealish off. Rashford’s on. Palmer is on. Phillips on, Trent off.

Somewhat surprised Gareth hasn’t made more changes earlier, given the low stakes and the poor surface. Wonder if club managers feel the same....


09:29 PM GMT

82 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

Ball launched into the box. Whistle goes. “He’s give a freekick against Harry Maguire at the back post. What for?!” asks Dion. “This is awful refereeing.”


09:25 PM GMT

80 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

Good sweeping move from England ends with Jack Grealish sadly blootering the cross.

England have a corner.


09:24 PM GMT

79 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

Been a muted atmos throughout for the home fans but suddenly a thunderous chant.


09:23 PM GMT

75 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

A match with more riding on it, also in the group: it’s Ukraine 0 Italy 0 after 78 mins or so in the battle for second in this group. The Italians, on head-to-head, have their noses in front in the contest for group C runners up as it stands.


09:19 PM GMT

70 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

England players right in this ref’s ear. About the only drama on show at the moment is the niggling with the official. Poor entertainment this. We could be watching Masterchef.


09:15 PM GMT

66 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

Ref’s in the game a lot. England wanted a pen for handball there. He’s booked Trent for verbals. Elmas, already booked, catches Grealish, who protests.


09:13 PM GMT

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09:09 PM GMT

59 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 1

As if to rub Watkins’s nose in it, Kane has immediately made the difference, more by his presence than any actual contribution.


09:06 PM GMT

GOAL! North Macedonia 1 England 1 (Atanasov og 58)

Kane has his marker Atanasov under pressure as the delivery comes in.... and the North Macedonian midfielder has bundled the ball past his own keeper!

England equalise through an own goal
England equalise through an own goal - Getty

09:04 PM GMT

57 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 0

Watkins has failed the audition to be Kane’s understudy, and is replaced by the real thing. Kane on.

A quiet few minutes, mostly noteworthy for the mild mannered Trent Alexander Arnold shouting at the ref.

England have a corner....


08:58 PM GMT

Your views on the penalty

Neale Harvey: “Joke penalty, but why didn’t Pickford just come out and claim the initial ball?”

John Alexander: “Well that was a soft penalty but frankly it’s Karma for England and Maguires Boris Johnson like tackle earlier which was certainly a penalty. Harsh on Lewis but England haven’t impressed at all and look wobbly every time the Macedonians press the defence.”

Do you think it was a penalty? Have you had enough of Gareth? What would be the most practical use for a a Harry Maguire? Have your say in the comments below.


08:54 PM GMT

47 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 0

Super play from Saka down the right, great close control, flicks it with the left to Grealish, who has taken up a good position and he sticks it past the keeper. Nicely done.

There is a Var check.... hold up... this doesn’t look so good... Chalked off for offside. Not sure why it has taken three minutes but there you go. That is offside.

Jack Grealish is just offside
Jack Grealish is just offside - GEORGI LICOVSKI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

08:53 PM GMT

46 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 0

Match resumes. Maguire getting booed.


08:52 PM GMT

Rooney film follows this on C4

Wayne Rooney - a normal bloke who was freakishly good at football


08:42 PM GMT

Joe Cole

“I feel for Rico Lewis. The guy is looking for it, rolling around on the floor. You are going to get people deliberately running into defenders’ hands. The referee has put some fire in the game and England need to keep their run going.”

Bojan Miovski of North Macedonia is fouled by Rico Lewis of England
Penalty? Bojan Miovski of North Macedonia is fouled by Rico Lewis of England - Getty Images Europe

08:37 PM GMT

Half time: North Macedonia 1 England 0

Somewhat debatable penalty, although personally I thought it was fair enough to give it. Marginal but not outrageous. Bad luck for Pickford having saved it to palm it straight back at the striker.

England played fine but not at their best. Hard to get too worked up, in my opinion, given that it is a dead rubber and Southgate has not called upon several first stringers.

Rico Lewis gave away a pen
Rico Lewis gave away a pen - Shutterstock

08:35 PM GMT

45+ mins: North Macedonia 1 England 0

Trent with a bit of class, control and a shot. Tipped over.

From the resulting corner, Maguire gets clanged by Elmas, whose boot was high. Well, high-ish I would say. Maguire dipped his enormous great melon down a long way. Bit of Var-ing but nothing comes of it.


08:32 PM GMT

45+ mins: North Macedonia 1 England 0

North Macedonia playing some nice stuff now.


08:31 PM GMT

45+ mins: North Macedonia 1 England 0

Lewis, no doubt desperate to make amends, is playing in midfield. He receives the ball, it all opens up for him, and he hits a hard low drive at the keeper.


08:30 PM GMT

44 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 0

The Homes Under The Hammer star might well be right about that, but not clear evidence of it yet.


08:29 PM GMT

42 mins: North Macedonia 1 England 0

Big Dion: “It might be the kick up the backside England needed. Might ignite them, make them go up a gear.”


08:27 PM GMT

GOAL! North Macedonia 1 England 0 (Bardhi 41)

Ah bad luck Jordan. He guesses correctly, diving to his left, and he pushes the ball out. But sadly for him, it’s straight into the path of the taker and Bardhi makes no mistake with the second bite of the cherry. Good for them, well done North Macedonia. That should make the rest of the game considerably more enjoyable and adds some stakes.

England's goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saves a penalty from North Macedonia's Enis Bardhi only for him to score the rebound
England's goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saves a penalty from North Macedonia's Enis Bardhi only for him to score the rebound - AP

08:26 PM GMT

40 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Pickford puffs out his chest.... skipper Bardhi steps up....


08:25 PM GMT

39 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

North Macedonia are awarded a penalty. Lewis protests his innocence. “How else are you supposed to jump?!” demands an angry Dion Dublin on Channel 4. “Never a penalty for me. It is supposed to be a contact sport.”


08:24 PM GMT

38 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Potential penalty. Rico Lewis was flapping his arm about and he has caught Miovski in the face with his left arm. Ref has gone over to the Var monitor... this could well be a penalty.


08:22 PM GMT

36 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Watkins gets through! But he has fouled an opponent in the process. Fails to net in any event.


08:21 PM GMT

34 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

England gone down a gear, not that they were exactly busting a gut before. Solid patient stuff, all England’s quality boyz getting loads of the ball. Foden and Grealish involved in everything.


08:17 PM GMT

30 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

England well on top but not exactly pummeling the limited opponents.


08:16 PM GMT

29 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Raking diagonal from Foden, needs only a touch from Watkins but he cannot get there.

England's Ollie Watkins in action with North Macedonia's Stole Dimitrievski and Nikola Serafimov
England's Ollie Watkins in action with North Macedonia's Stole Dimitrievski and Nikola Serafimov - Action Images via Reuters

08:13 PM GMT

26 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Walker with a foul, Bardhi plays the freekick In but to little effect.


08:11 PM GMT

24 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Sloppy from Harry Maguire. Gives the ball away to Alioski, who slips the ball to Elmas. Attempting to recover, Maguire stumbles and bundles into Elmas. The North Macedonian forward wants a penalty, and why wouldn’t he. The ref sees it the other way. Elmas made the best of the contact but a pen would not have been a shock.


08:08 PM GMT

21 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Alioski catches Saka a sore one on the calf.

England’s main concern, surely, must be avoiding incident here.

Southgate’s men have a corner but it comes to little.


08:06 PM GMT

19 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Atanasov at it again, this time giving Walker a cuddle around the neck to stop the full-back escaping.


08:04 PM GMT

16 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

A foul on Saka, who gets sandwiched between Atanasov and Elmas. The ref books the latter, I think for verbals rather than the actual challenge.

Saka fouled
Saka fouled

08:00 PM GMT

15 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

First big chance for England as Rice is given far too much time and space on the edge of the box, well struck low shot and it hits the post.

Soon after, the ball is stood up for Watkins at the back stick and he cannot direct the header. Not international class, IMVHO, the boy Watkins although he seems a nice lad and I am happy to be proved wrong.


07:57 PM GMT

10 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

England's Trent Alexander-Arnold
England's Trent Alexander-Arnold - AP

Trent getting plenty of time and space for a roving quarterback role.


07:56 PM GMT

9 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

England very well on top. Lewis and Walker allowed to get forward at will. Atmosphere very muted in the stadium. NM inviting England on.

Grealish down after an off-the-ball collision with Manev. He’s fine.


07:51 PM GMT

5 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Rice fails to trap the ball and gives the pitch a Paddington Bear stare.


07:48 PM GMT

3 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

England have the ball down the right with Saka, drilled across, now Grealish and Rice combine down the left and it’s cut back for Watkins. Only a few inches away from playing him in.

England have a corner and it looks like it might drop for Rico Lewis.

Here’s Jason Burt at the ground

“Interestingly England lined up in a 4-2-3-1 but, really, it is a back three with Rico Lewis moving from left-back into midfield as he does for Manchester City. Big role for the 18-year-old on his debut.”


07:47 PM GMT

1 mins: North Macedonia 0 England 0

Kick off. No obvious problems just yet to note with the pitch.


07:40 PM GMT

Jason Burt at the National Arena Todor Proeski

“It feels like a hugely significant night for Trent Alexander-Arnold. Playing central midfield - where he believes he can be most effective - and doing okay against Malta is one thing. Following that up by playing there away to North Macedonia looks like a really chance for him to stake a claim for the role in next summer’s European Championships. Kalvin Phillips should begin to worry if Alexander-Arnold does well.”


07:40 PM GMT

National anthem time

Some boos for the England one, not that England fans can exactly have any complaints about that.


07:35 PM GMT

Jason Burt on the armband situation

Jason Burt at the National Arena Todor Proeski

“With Harry Kane on the bench the captain’s armband for England goes to Kyle Walker. It is a clear sign of the importance of the 33-year-old, who Gareth Southgate recently revealed he talked out of international retirement. Walker is also Manchester City’s current captain - having looked like he was on his way out of the club to Bayern Munich in the summer. It has been a remarkable turn-around for the full-back.”


07:35 PM GMT

Gareth Southgate

“Oli’s game is different to Harry’s. It is for us to adapt. He has great strengths running in behind and we want to play to his qualities not the other way round.

“We want Rico to enjoy his game, it is a lovely moment. I want him to get forward, show what he can do.

“Didn’t play as well as we would have liked in the last game, didn’t use the ball well enough. Be decisive when we get chances.”

Rico Lewis warming up for his debut
Rico Lewis warming up for his debut - Getty

07:33 PM GMT

Here's Jason Burt

Jason Burt at the National Arena Todor Proeski

“No Harry Kane in England starting line-up this evening. The last time the striker did not start a competitive game for England was in the 5-0 win away to Andorra in October 2021 in a World Cup qualifier. Gareth Southgate is very aware that he needs to not use his players too much given the number of injuries being suffered this season.”


07:32 PM GMT

Paul Hollywood is judging

some gingerbread men baking made by the England lads.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has won the day with his Steven Gerrard showstopper. “I am very disappointed,” says runner-up Jordan Henderson.


07:16 PM GMT

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07:14 PM GMT

Having a bet?

It should be a routine win for England in their final group stage match against North Macedonia. Get behind The Three Lions using these best betting offers and free bets.


07:03 PM GMT

Joe Cole on Channel Four

“Tonight feels like more of an occasion, England are in town and there is a buzz.

“I would not say there should be concerns about the pitch. There will be some aching bodies tomorrow which is what you get on a hard pitch, but I don’t think they will be worried about injury.”

The National Arena Todor Proeski in Skopje ahead of North Macedonia vs England
The National Arena Todor Proeski in Skopje ahead of North Macedonia vs England - Alex Grimm/Getty Images

07:02 PM GMT

Five leading candidates to work in Southgate's engine room

Gareth Southgate has forbidden all talk of Euro 2024 before England’s dead rubber in North Macedonia but will be keen to maximise his final competitive fixture before next summer’s tournament, writes Daniel Zeqiri.

Fitness permitting, England have a core of players who appear certain starters in Southgate’s eyes: Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane.

The identity of the third midfielder alongside Rice and Bellingham, whether in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, is up for debate. These are five of the leading candidates.

Jordan Henderson: A Southgate stalwart and an England starter in the last three tournaments, Henderson could find himself in the team by default due to a lack of outstanding candidates. Favours the right side of the pitch, which counter-balances Bellingham nicely. Turns 34 in June, and has another six months of Saudi Pro League football as preparation. Conor Gallagher offers many of the attributes of a younger Henderson.

Kalvin Phillips: Has dovetailed nicely with Rice, and Southgate might be attracted to the idea of a true double pivot to let Bellingham off the leash. Lack of minutes for Manchester City is a concern, but circumstances could change in the January transfer window. Long-range passing is a strength but his tackling could attract attention from officious tournament referees.

Phil Foden: The preferred choice of those England fans who want Southgate to be more cavalier. Foden is precisely the profile of player England teams of old lacked, adept at receiving the ball on the half-turn in confined spaces. The notion of Foden and Bellingham as roaming ‘eights’ is alluring, but does it offer enough control and stability? As Southgate is keen to stress, Foden is rarely used centrally by Pep Guardiola.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: Rice is a world class ball-winner and Bellingham is a world class mover, so adding a world class passer to the mix makes sense. Regularly receives the ball in central midfield positions for Liverpool, but is that more effective when popping up from full-back as a spare man?

James Maddison: An outstanding start to his Tottenham Hotspur career ought to have moved him ahead of Mason Mount, and he offers the creativity England are habitually accused of lacking. Similar tactical concerns to Foden however, more so given he likes the same inside left zone as Bellingham. Also slightly prone to injury.

James Ward-Prowse, Jacob Ramsey and Sean Longstaff might feel they deserve a chance, but are very much outsiders.


06:53 PM GMT

Relaxed

England's Declan Rice and Ezri Konsa
England's Declan Rice and Ezri Konsa - Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

06:49 PM GMT

Team analysis

Kyle Walker captains a much-changed England side as Manchester City team-mate Rico Lewis makes his senior debut in the Euro 2024 qualifier against North Macedonia.

With qualification for next summer’s finals secured last month, manager Gareth Southgate takes the chance to shuffle his pack for the final game of Group C in Skopje.

Regular skipper Harry Kane drops to the bench in one of six alterations from the 2-0 Wembley win over Malta on Friday night, as Ollie Watkins starts up front in the absence of the Bayern Munich man.

Walker also comes into the team, as do Jack Grealish and Arsenal pair Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka.


06:44 PM GMT

The Three Lions

North Macedonia: Dimitrievski, Manev, Serafimov, Musliu, Dimoski, Bardhi, Atanasov, Alimi, Alioski, Miovski, Elmas. Subs: Kostadinov, Askovski, Iljazovski, Elezi, Churlinov, Mitrovski, Milan Ristovski, Todoroski, Aleksovski, Daci, Ademi, Siskovski.

England: Pickford, Walker, Guehi, Maguire, Lewis, Alexander-Arnold, Rice, Saka, Foden, Grealish, Watkins. Subs: Gallagher, Kane, Ramsdale, Phillips, Tomori, Rashford, Johnstone, Konsa, Palmer, Henderson.


06:43 PM GMT

England team


06:37 PM GMT

Euro 2020

You might recall North Macedonia getting to Euro 2020; they lost all three of their group games to Austria, Ukraine and Holland. They got to the qualifying play-off for World Cup 2022 but Portugal were too strong. Agonising, having beaten the Italians in the semis...


06:33 PM GMT

North Macedonia

played their first international in 1993. Their greatest player has been Goran Pandev, who scored 38 in 122 caps, not half bad. Played for Inter, Lazio and Napoli, and a lot of games for Genoa in a superb career.


06:31 PM GMT

Looks gorgeous there


06:30 PM GMT

John with some nice pics


06:13 PM GMT

England travel to North Macedonia

And there are concerns in the England camp about the condition of the pitch. It was relaid six weeks ago and report are that it has sand, stones and shingle poking through. With England already qualified, they certainly won’t want to risk any injuries. “That’s why you want to make sure you’re qualified well in advance,” Gareth Southgate has said. “We said that right at the start of the qualifying campaign, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get away from home.”

Italy played on it in September, complained, and their FA got an apology from their North Macedonia colleagues. Italy’s Ciro Immobile complained about the pitch in Skopje by saying: “Playing on a pitch like this could be dangerous. We knew it was going to be a tough game, but on this field it becomes even tougher.”

Declan Rice was among the England players doing press conferences ahead of the match. He talked about moving from Arsenal to West Ham. “When the transfer was going through I was very nervous because of the price tag. You’re a human being bought for 105 million pounds, it doesn’t feel very normal. But that was because of what I’d done at West Ham, what they valued me at. It’s 100 million pounds, it’s a lot of money, I could understand the pressure that comes with it. Not only the pressure you put on yourself but there’s an expectation of being bought for that much money we need to see performances straight away. They have invested a lot of money in me, I need to prove why I can go there and change things.”

Hopefully he and the rest of the England guys get through tonight unscathed. There have also been some concerns pre-match about North Macedonia fans being naughty so we will keep an eye on that as well.

This match is on Channel 4 from 7pm and kick off is at 7.45pm. Join us for the team news at about 6.45pm and we will take it from there. Hopefully it will be a better watch than the recent game against Malta.

Incidentally, it does not look too bad judging from this. The locals could be forgiven for wanting to make a point.