This was the first time that England have failed to win a qualifier at Wembley — not including Nations League games — since a 1-1 draw with Ukraine here in September 2012, more than nine years ago. That day, in the first phase of the Roy Hodgson era, they needed a late Frank Lampard penalty to rescue a point. Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Tom Cleverley all started for England. It was a very different time.
Maybe our expectations from qualifiers have been distorted since then, by a gradually improving England team and a qualification system that generally keeps them away from Europe’s strongest sides. But this is the type of game that England have learned to stroll through in recent years and their immaculate home record is testament to that. Maybe this is complacency talking but seeing England play this poorly here genuinely came as a surprise.
Ultimately, aside from some brief but unpleasant scenes between police and fans in the away end in the first five minutes of the game, this was a night where the performance mattered more than a result. England are still on the brink of qualification for the Qatar World Cup and they will still surely take the final step to get there in one of their two games next month. No-one would ask them to stop their preparations for 2022 on this basis. But given this evening was about the performance, the fact that England played this badly made it feel more like a defeat.
The mind went back to the 2-1 defeat in Prague in October 2019 when England came up against a hard-working and organised Czech Republic side, tried out a new system and saw it out-manoeuvred by their opponents. That night did not turn into much of a setback in the end, and has largely been forgotten against the backdrop of England’s clear improvement in recent years.
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