Jordan Pickford was England’s spot-kick hero once more as they beat Switzerland on penalties to finish third in the inaugural Uefa Nations League.
Everton’s goalkeeper saved from Josip Drmic to seal the win after the first 11 penalties in the shootout were scored – having stepped forward to hammer home England’s fifth in confident fashion.
The Three Lions’ victory gave them a small measure of consolation after they lost their semi-final to the Netherlands and it was deserved after they created all the best opportunities in a predictably low-key affair.
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling hit the woodwork, Swiss keeper Yann Sommer saved superbly from Dele Alli and Callum Wilson had a goal ruled out by VAR after he was adjudged to have fouled Manuel Akanji.
And so it went to penalties, with Harry Maguire, Ross Barkley, Jadon Sancho, Sterling, Pickford and Eric Dier successful before Drmic’s miss.
Switzerland were on target through Steven Zuber, Granit Xhaka, Akanji, Kevin Mbabu and Fabian Schar before Pickford – as he did in the last-16 World Cup meeting with Colombia in Moscow last year – made the decisive contribution.
- Relive England’s penalty shootout win against Switzerland
- Rate the players: Who was your England man of the match?
England struggle over the line
England would have suffered a serious injustice had they not claimed third place, not because they turned in a performance of quality but because they made all the running and the opportunities against a conservative Switzerland.
It was, however, a jaded display lacking in inspiration that reflected not only the gruelling season so many of manager Gareth Southgate’s players have endured but also the low-key nature of the occasion.
England’s fans stayed on in good numbers after their loss to the Dutch, as did the Swiss, but there were still many empty spaces in the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques, and many supporters actually headed for the exits at the end of normal time to enjoy the sunshine in Guimaraes.
The overall emotion will be disappointment after falling at the semi-final, as England did in the World Cup, but at least the additional pain of the wooden spoon here was avoided.
And Pickford at least provided some form of dramatic storyline by the manner in which he rammed his penalty high past Sommer in front of England’s celebrating fans before diving to his right to save from Drmic to finally give some cause for celebration.
Liverpool pair stake their claim
Southgate will have another bonus when the dust settles on England’s ultimately unfulfilling Uefa Nations League finals.
That came in the performances of Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, who played in a manner which suggested they are more than ready to become a regular part of England’s starting line-up.
Alexander-Arnold gave a superb performance at right-back, not only completing admittedly rare defensive duties but giving a masterclass of the attacking side of the game.
The 20-year-old who won the Champions League with Liverpool in Madrid, provided a stream of quality service and his all-round display was in contrast to the sloppiness of his main rival for a starting place, Kyle Walker, in England’s two games here in Portugal. It was a surprise when he was switched to the left to accommodate Walker’s arrival as a substitute.
Gomez, whose season was curtailed by a broken leg sustained at Burnley and was only a substitute when Liverpool enjoyed their glory in Madrid, also showed he will soon be pushing his way to the front of the queue of England’s central defenders.
Gomez has pace, power and composure and Southgate must hope he now enjoys an injury-free run because he can become a formidable presence at the heart of England’s defence.
The game no-one wanted?
There was an almost surreal atmosphere surrounding this third-place play-off.
England and Switzerland, whose players looked pretty much spent, could have been forgiven for wanting to take the first plane home and going on holiday once they had lost their semi-finals to the Netherlands and Portugal respectively.
Uefa, however, wanted to give this tournament the air of a major event and to just have two semi-finals then a final would have made things very short and sweet. In this context, their position was understandable.
There was occasionally a friendly feel as passages of play were conducted in silence, although England’s fans were vociferous, especially in their condemnation of VAR after Wilson’s goal was ruled out.
It is a tough decision because clearly Uefa wants this Nations League to grow, although the under-stated celebrations and presentation of medals gave an indicator into its status.
Man of the match
Pickford makes England history – the stats
- England finished third in a major international tournament for the first time since Euro 1968.
- Switzerland have won just one of their past 23 matches against England in all competitions (W1 D6 L16).
- England have never lost against Switzerland at a neutral venue, winning two and drawing two of their four matches.
- England scored six penalties in a single shootout at a competitive tournament for the first time in their history.
- England have won consecutive penalty shootouts at a competitive tournament for the first time – they had lost five in a row prior to this.
- Pickford is the first goalkeeper to take (and score) a penalty for England in a competitive shootout.
- Kane has failed to score in nine of his past 12 appearances for England and Kane has failed to score in his past two games, after scoring in three in a row between November 2018 and March 2019.
A well-earned rest. England are not back in international action until 7 September, when they host Bulgaria in a Euro 2020 qualifier.