North Macedonia 1-1 England: Three Lions end Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with frustrating draw

Jack Grealish was on the receiving end of a number of fouls (Action Images via Reuters)
Jack Grealish was on the receiving end of a number of fouls (Action Images via Reuters)

England ended the year in frustrating fashion as North Macedonia held them to a 1-1 draw in Skopje.

The Three Lions went into their final Euro 2024 qualifier with their place in Germany next summer already secure and unbeaten in all nine matches they had played in 2023, not tasting defeat since that World Cup quarter-final defeat to France.

That run was extended to double figures, but it was not the performance or result Gareth Southgate was looking for, as next year's Euros in Germany increasingly come into focus.

A fast start was expected from England after their low-key display against Malta last week but, although Declan Rice was denied by the woodwork in the early stages, there was little to get excited about in the opening 45 minutes.

Harry Maguire was fortunate to not give away a penalty with a clumsy challenge, before Rico Lewis on debut was on the receiving end of a bizarre VAR decision. He grazed Bojan Miovski's face with a hand as he jumped to head the ball, contact that was deemed enough for a penalty after the referee checked the pitchside monitor. Enis Bardhi's spot-kick was saved by Jordan Pickford, but the North Macedonia captain reacted to slam home the rebound.

Jack Grealish thought he had levelled things up inside two minutes of the restart, after great work from Bukayo Saka, but that was ruled out for offside after another unnecessarily long VAR check.

The England equaliser did eventually come, just before the hour mark. Harry Kane had been brought on to replace Ollie Watkins and seconds later he was on the scene, jumping with Jani Atanasov as the North Macedonia midfielder turned the ball into his own net.

That left the Three Lions with half an hour to find a winner, but it did not come. This was a result that ensured England will be a top seed in Germany next summer, but a performance that did little to lift the mood after a lacklustre few days.