North Macedonia 1-1 England: Three Lions stay unbeaten in ten to round off 2023

The final UEFA Nations League clash of the year awaited for both sides on Monday evening in Skopje. The home nation lost 5-2 to Luciano Spalletti’s Italy last time out, while despite a subpar performance at Wembley Stadium on Friday, Gareth Southgate’s England eased to a 2-0 win against Malta.

MKD: Dimitrievski; Manev; Serafimov, Musliu; Dimoski, Bardhi, Atanasov, Alimi, Alioski; Elmas, Miovski

ENG: Pickford; Walker, Guehi, Maguire, Lewis; Rice, Alexander-Arnold; Foden, Saka, Grealish; Watkins

A cold night in Skopje began with England dominating the ball early on, despite the constant jeers from the home faithful. Ollie Watkins, brought in by Gareth Southgate for captain Harry Kane, went close in the opening minutes. However, the Aston Villa frontman was unable to turn home Jack Grealish’s low cross from the left hand side.

England went even closer to finding the opener inside the 14th minute, only for Arsenal midfielder Declan Rice to see his low shot smack back off the far post and away. 

Despite the dominance from England, it was almost made to be for nothing as Harry Maguire gave the ball away to Eljif Elmas, giving North Macedonia the rare privilege of attacking the England goal. However, the Manchester United defender was left to breathe a even bigger sigh of relief as his challenge on Isnik Alimi in the box was deemed fair by the referee, thus no penalty was awarded.

Up the other end, Ollie Watkins once again had a chance to open the scoring in what was now evolving into a tight contest in Skopje, but Phil Foden’s through ball to Watkins was hit slightly harder than expected, and Stole Dimitrievski came out to collect the ball comfortably.

With just six minutes to go until half-time, following a VAR check, North Macedonia were awarded a penalty after debutant Rico Lewis was adjudged to have elbowed Bojan Miovski in the face in the box. Enis Bardhi then stepped up to take the spot kick, and after his original effort was saved by Jordan Pickford, the Trabzonspor midfielder smashed home the rebound to put the home side in front – albeit controversially. 

Embed from Getty Images

Rico Lewis almost atoned for his unfortunate error as the first half entered stoppage time, but the young Manchester City full-back’s low effort was tame and easily collected by Dimitrievski. Trent Alexander-Arnold then tried his luck from range, but the Liverpool man’s strike was tipped over well by Dimitrievski. 

England knew coming out for the second half that they had to come from behind, and they had originally done just that as Jack Grealish steered home Bukayo Saka’s cross in from the right hand side. However, following another VAR check, referee Filip Glova ruled that the Manchester City man was offside when scoring, thus the goal was wiped off the scoreboard. 

Harry Kane came on for Ollie Watkins in the 58th minute, and within moments, the Bayern Munich frontman helped find the back of the net. A corner was whipped in from the right hand side by Phil  Foden and while it did look like Harry Kane scored with his first touch, the ball instead came off Jani Atanasov for an own goal – regardless of how the equaliser came around, it was a goal that England had deserved.

Embed from Getty Images

Gareth Southgate’s men continued to dictate the game for large periods in the second half. However, they could not find a winning goal as England waved goodbye to 2023 unbeaten in all competitions.

The Three Lions now turn their attention to preparations for next summer’s European Championships in Germany, with England facing off against Brazil in a friendly match on March 23rd, before taking on Belgium three days later – both games to be played at Wembley Stadium.