Gareth Southgate said England can take a giant stride towards securing qualification for next year’s World Cup on Wednesday against Poland after easing past Andorra in their first match at Wembley since losing in the Euro 2020 final.
England struggled to break down a defence that had kept clean sheets in their last two matches until deep into the second half, when Harry Kane’s penalty finally extended the lead that had been established by Jesse Lingard in the 18th minute. Lingard’s second and a goal for Bukayo Saka five minutes from time on his 20th birthday eventually made things much more comfortable for Southgate’s side as they strengthened their grip on Group I.
England travel to Poland to face their nearest challengers after Hungary were beaten in Albania, with Southgate acknowledging that a sixth successive victory would all but secure qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. “It’s a great incentive for us if we can go to Warsaw and win then we really are in control of the group,” he said.
Saka, who missed the crucial spot-kick in the penalty shootout defeat to Italy at the Euros, was given a rapturous applause by the home crowd and capped a brilliant display with his second senior international goal.
“I’m sure he will have gained a lot of confidence and heart from the reception he got before the game,” said Southgate. “Then the reception of his teammates when he scored showed you what they think of him. I hope it was closure if it was needed but I don’t think there is a player in that dressing room who thinks anything but positively about what he did all summer. It’s a lovely story for him to score on his birthday as well.”
Southgate opted to start with Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield before switching to full-back in the second half and he admitted the Liverpool defender looked more comfortable in his orthodox position.
“We wanted to have a look at playing him in a more advanced role,” he said. “We know he has outstanding quality on the ball but there wasn’t a lot of space in the first half. I don’t think we lost anything by having a look at it. We felt this was a good game to look at it.”