Talking points ahead of England’s clash with North Macedonia

By Sports Desk November 19, 2023

Already-qualified England complete their Euro 2024 qualification campaign away to North Macedonia on Monday evening.

Ahead of the Group C finale in Skopje, the PA news agency has looked at five of the main talking points.

England attempt to end year unbeaten

Gareth Southgate’s men have ultimately cruised to qualification from a potentially tricky pool, going unbeaten across 2023 in the process. England have not looked back since rebounding from their World Cup quarter-final defeat to France by winning at reigning European champions Italy, going on to qualify with two games to spare. They all but sealed a place in the top pot for next month’s Euro 2024 draw by beating Malta 2-0 on Friday, taking this year’s record to eight wins in nine matches in all competitions. Southgate says he wants to end the year on a high and wants to build momentum by going go undefeated all the way through to Euro 2024.

Final foreign assignment before the Euros

England face March tests against Brazil and Belgium in Wembley friendlies, with another couple of home matches lined-up as Southgate’s side fine-tune for their shot at glory in Germany. It means Monday’s qualifier in Skopje will be their final match on foreign soil until the Euros get under way in June, with Southgate saying it will be good to be in “a challenging environment because that’s what we’re going to be in next summer”. There will be 2,332 travelling fans at the sold out 32,000-capacity Tose Proeski Arena, which may also end up playing host to Southgate’s final qualifier as England boss.

How will Southgate juggle his selection?

Southgate has dealt with a disruptive build-up and saw his already absentee-hit selection compounded by five of his initial group withdrawing through injury. A further three players have been absent for periods for the meet-up due to personal reasons, with Kieran Trippier among those and leaving the camp on Sunday. It means England have travelled to Skopje with just 22 players and Southgate is having to balance load, fitness and freshness for a potential dead rubber that will see wholesale changes. Cole Palmer will be hoping to make his first start after making his debut off the bench on Friday. The Chelsea talent was a late call-up along with Ezri Konsa and Rico Lewis, who will be hoping to win their first cap in the Balkans.

Can back-up attackers impress?

Record goalscorer Harry Kane would love to have the chance to pad his stats in Skopje, but surely Southgate will use this opportunity to give Ollie Watkins a run out as number nine. No England striker has been able to nail down a position as back-to the skipper but the in-form Aston Villa striker has a great chance with Ivan Toney banned and Callum Wilson suspended. Jarrod Bowen is another that needs to grasp his opportunity if Southgate turn his way. Selecting the 26-year-old over Raheem Sterling is a show of faith but the five-cap forward has so far failed to take his West Ham performances onto the international stage.

Macedonian revenge mission

North Macedonia were blown away in June’s reverse fixture at Old Trafford, where they were a far cry from the side that had recently shocked Germany and Italy. Kane struck twice in a 7-0 annihilation that also saw Marcus Rashford and Kalvin Phillips get in on the act, but Bukayo Saka was the star of the show with his tremendous treble. Head coach Blagoja Milevski apologised to the nation in the post-match press conference and said on Sunday that he pledged to show a “new face” in the rematch. Given they held the Azzurri to a 1-1 draw in Skopje two months ago, it would be a shock if they are not vastly improved.

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