Uefa Nations League: 'Nervous' Jordan Pickford is penalty hero as England earn consolation win against Switzerland
Goalkeeper scores and saves in shootout as Gareth Southgate’s side seal third spot in tournament
If England hoped it would be like 1966, the inaugural Uefa Nations League instead proved like 1968. For the first time in 51 years, they won a third-place play-off, even if there were certain similarities with 2018.
Gareth Southgate may not have ended their wait for a trophy, but he has turned them into shoot-out specialists. Colombia were beaten on penalties in Russia and, with five different spot-kick takers, England earned another victim in the shape of Switzerland.
Jordan Pickford added to his World Cup stop from Carlos Bacca by denying Josip Drmic. For good measure, the goalkeeper had already converted the pressure fifth-penalty emphatically. “I have never taken one in a real game so I was a bit nervous,” Pickford said.
A spectator for much of the preceding 120 minutes, he excelled twice in the subsequent drama. He was a surprise choice, but Southgate explained: “He has got good technique. We know there is an order and with the players left on the pitch, he is in the first five.”
Harry Maguire, a nonchalant Ross Barkley, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Eric Dier also held their nerve as dominance eventually brought a belated reward.
“I was most pleased with the performance,” Southgate added. “I don't think we have ever had to work so hard for a win.”
But for a combination of wayward finishing, fine goalkeeping, the woodwork and VAR, England would have been able to celebrate sooner.
For the second successive match, they had a goal disallowed in the final minutes of regulation time. Substitute Callum Wilson thought he had scored his second international goal, converting the rebound after Dele Alli headed against the bar, but, with the aid of VAR, was penalised for grabbing Manuel Akanji.
“I have always said the referee's decision should be final,” Southgate said.
Otherwise, England were frustrated by Yann Sommer and his woodwork. The frame of the Swiss goal was struck four times, once almost resulting in an own goal. Fabian Schar was reprieved by a combination of Sommer and the post after miscuing his attempt to clear Danny Rose’s cross.
Sommer also applied a crucial touch when Harry Kane’s second-minute chip rebounded off the bar. Kane looked sharper and the game was bookended by England’s forwards striking wood with Sterling, Kane’s sidekick, seeing a 117th-minute free kick beat Sommer but not the upright. Otherwise, Sterling proved profligate. If his elusiveness was such that he got seven chances, he spurned each; one, because of a poor touch, did not even result in a shot. On another, he missed the ball altogether. Yet he showed the character to score his penalty.
Trent Alexander-Arnold did not take one, Southgate rationalising his Liverpool team-mate Xherdan Shaqiri may have inside knowledge after their Champions League preparations, but advanced his case to displace Kyle Walker from the first-choice side. Not since David Beckham had an England player delivered as many crosses in a game and the Liverpudlian’s quality was in evidence as he fashioned seven opportunities. Sterling failed to connect with his first enticing cross, while two others resulted in Alli’s headers.
The Tottenham man exerted an influence, albeit without making a decisive contribution, at the tip of a midfield diamond. Southgate’s willingness to amend his blueprint is a sign he is forever looking to learn lessons. He changed shape and England were rarely outnumbered in the middle of the park. Yet that central quartet was not the most creative, rendering the overlapping full-backs’ efforts all the more important.
Both came into the side as Southgate’s seven changes reflected the reality that England had played 120 minutes three days earlier. There was no John Stones, after his ordeal against Holland, but no change to the strategy of trying to play out from the back; when Maguire turned out of trouble on the penalty spot, it drew huge cheers. The Leicester man was excellent, reinforcing the impression that tournament life suits him. Strange as it sounds, penalty shootouts now suit England.
Updated: June 9, 2019 10:14 PM