When John Stones gave the ball to allow an equalizer, Harry Maguire quickly reassured his central defensive partner in England.
“Keep going,” Maguire recalls, “and we’ll win.”
And so they did against Poland – with Stones, who redeemed himself.
It was with the head of the Manchester City defender that a corner from Calvin Phillips remained in play and reached Maguire, who willingly entered the roof of the net to seal a 2: 1 victory on Wednesday. This gave Gareth Southgate’s Group I leaders a third straight victory in a week to start qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
“We are defenders – we always make mistakes,” Maguire said. “We don’t like mistakes. Sometimes we are guilty of goals. “
And England had to score more in the dominant first half – instead of relying on Rahim Sterling to be fouled by Michal Helik for captain Harry Kane to score his 34th goal for England in the 19th minute.
But the ineffective visitors were given a way back into the game when the Stones relinquished possession of the English penalty area under pressure from Jacob Moder. Stones gave the ball to Arkadiusz Milik, who returned it to Moder to equalize in the 58th minute.
It was the first shot on goal for England in its three qualifiers and the first goal Nick Pope had conceded in his seven games against England. But Papa played the short ball to the Stones, which contributed to the blunder.
“John made a small breakthrough tonight, but he will come back strong,” Maguire said. “He is in great shape for a club, he is in great shape for a country.
“It was a good performance from him to come back strong in the reaction he made and get an assist is important for the team.”
Gifted with a level, Poland gradually looked more threatening – even without the wounded Robert Lewandowski. Southgate had not yet made any changes to their side until the game reached 85 minutes, and it paid off in part thanks to the Stones.
“He managed to come together for the rest of the game and was involved in the winning goal, which is important,” Southgate said. “You can fold in those moments, but he can’t.”
This was Southgate’s last chance to evaluate his players before choosing a squad for the rescheduled European Championship. And when England play their new match against Croatia on June 13th, at least 10,000 fans must be sent back to Wembley Stadium with the pandemic restrictions lifted.
While the England players took the knee before the start, their Polish counterparts did not fulfill the gesture against racism – instead they pointed the UEFA badge of respect on their shirts.
Hungary remains two points behind England in second place after Attila Fiola, Daniel Gazdag, Laszlo Kleinheisler and Loic Nego scored in a 4-1 victory in Andorra in the pursuit of the only automatic qualifier.
Albania rose above Poland in third place after Ray Manai and Mirto Uzuni won 2-0 over San Marino, which is zero points behind Andorra.