Already-qualified England gained an unconvincing victory over Malta at Wembley to boost their hopes of being seeded for Euro 2024 next summer.

Phil Foden’s pull-back was diverted into his own net by Malta defender Enrico Pepe after only eight minutes, but Gareth Southgate’s side failed to register a single shot on target in the opening hour against a nation ranked 171st in the world.

However, England did produce a bit of quality in the 75th minute to seal victory through Harry Kane.

It came after a fine one and two-touch passing move involving Kyle Walker, Foden and Bukayo Saka, who set up skipper Kane for his 62nd international goal.

Declan Rice thought he had added a third, excellently curling low into the bottom corner, but the goal was ruled out following a check by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) as Kane, standing in the goalkeeper’s line of sight, was adjudged offside.

Chelsea forward Cole Palmer made his debut in the second half at a packed national stadium.

England had qualified for next summer’s Euro 2024 in Germany with two games to spare, but only five of the 10 group winners, along with the hosts, will be seeded when the draw is made next month.

Southgate’s side play their final qualifier on Monday in North Macedonia and a draw would be enough to guarantee a top seeding.

Foden shines amid England’s struggle

Malta had not won in 16 successive European Championship qualifiers and lost all seven of their previous matches in Group C, only scoring two goals in the process.

They had only ever managed one goal in four games against England – an own goal by goalkeeper Richard Wright in a 2-1 friendly loss in June 2000 – but nearly made a sensational start.

They capitalised on the hosts losing possession from their own throw-in, with Teddy Teuma’s low strike just going wide.

England, ranked fourth in the world, had scored 19 goals in six matches to qualify for Euro 2024 and gained the early advantage.

Foden, one of the few players to be anywhere near his best, burst into the box and with few options around him, drilled the ball back. It rebounded off the unfortunate Pepe and past Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello.

The England fans expected the floodgates to open but it did not happen.

Record scorer Kane was unlucky to not have a penalty when he pounced on a mistake by Bonello and appeared to be fouled by a goalkeeper desperate to redeem himself.

But, much to Kane and Southgate’s surprise, referee Luís Miguel Branco Godinho showed the Bayern Munich striker a yellow card for diving.

With Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham and Tottenham’s James Maddison both unavailable through injury, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was given the number 10 shirt and a chance to stake a claim in midfield, compared to his regular right-back role for his club.

He shot over from 22 yards following another purposeful Foden run in a first half that ended with neither side registering a shot on target.

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, with only one club goal this season, was also handed a start and was another to be denied what looked to be a penalty when he was blocked off by defender Steve Borg inside the 18-yard area.

Cole Palmer crosses the ball
Chelsea forward Cole Palmer made his England debut four months after helping the Under-21s win the European Under-21 Championship final against Spain

But Rashford struggled to create any further opportunities.

Palmer came on just after the hour for his debut, but uncapped Aston Villa defender Ezri Konsa and Manchester City full-back Rico Lewis remained unused substitutes.

Malta never threatened an equaliser, but the home fans showed their discontent with the Three Lions’ efforts and a number of paper airplanes were thrown on to the pitch and surrounding areas.

Alexander-Arnold finally registered England’s first attempt on target in the 63rd minute, shooting straight at Bonello.

A rare, and welcome, moment of class saw England score a fine second with Kane finishing off a beautiful team goal in a bright spot from a largely forgettable performance.

Kesh Awefada

Kesh Awefada

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