When the Swedish referee, Andreas Ekberg, was advised by the VAR to consult the pitchside monitor, everybody knew what was coming. And it was the same with Harry Kane, when he addressed the subsequent penalty.
Hard and low into the bottom corner, Kane had his 49th England goal, Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 getting ever nearer. And England had a slightly streaky victory over a Switzerland team who might have been two goals in front before Luke Shaw’s equaliser on 45 minutes.
The penalty was the big talking point and it was one to make Switzerland and their substitute, Steven Zuber, feel sore. Zuber had jumped for a corner with his back to the ball and, although his arm was away from his body, he knew very little about it when Marc Guéhi, the England debutant, thudded a header into it.
And so England picked up where they had left off last November, when they secured their qualification to the World Cup with wins over Albania and San Marino. The momentum remains with them – they have now lost just once in 21 matches – even if there were holes in this performance, mainly in the first half.
Switzerland had gone in front through Breel Embolo and it was at this point that England came to wobble. They would be indebted to Jordan Pickford, who made one especially fine save to deny Fabian Frei. Shaw’s goal was the turning point and what a strike it was, a left-footed first time effort that had shades of his finish in the Euro 2020 final against Italy, albeit from further out.
It felt a little startling to realise that this was the first of only three Wembley matches for England before the World Cup and, if it was a friendly, then good for both nations. The alternative was that they would most likely have been involved in the World Cup playoffs. As it was, the big crowd could relax and enjoy the show. That was the theory.
Gareth Southgate’s selection is rarely simple and, after the raft of withdrawals from his squad, he had to cope with the loss of John Stones to an injury in the warm-up. Ben White stepped in for him in the back three – and it was always going to be a back three, given how Southgate had doubled down on the tactic in last November’s away game against San Marino.
White will not enjoy the inquest into the breakthrough goal, which came hard on the heels of Granit Xhaka extending Pickford with a low drive from outside the area on 22 minutes. White appeared to be unaware of Embolo in behind him and, when he woke up, it was too late. Xherdan Shaqiri dropped over a lovely cross; Embolo’s headed finish was clinical. In the previous phase of play, Silvan Widmer had looked to have broken into an offside position but it was not spotted.
The experimentation from Southgate was there at the outset and it involved a switch to 3-5-2 – the formation that he had used at the 2018 World Cup – with Conor Gallagher, on his first start, and Mason Mount as driving No 8s and a new role up front for Phil Foden. The Manchester City player had plenty of licence to drift or drop into deeper areas. Gallagher, meanwhile, pushed high and, from a Kane pass in the 14th minute, he cut inside and shaped a curler for the far corner. Widmer headed clear and it did not look as though the goalkeeper, Jonas Omlin, would have got across.
Embolo’s goal ignited a purple patch for his team while England were unnerved, particularly at the back, where White struggled and the spaces were pronounced, particularly between the debutant, Guéhi, at left centre-back and Shaw at left wing-back.
Shaqiri enjoyed himself and he saw one shot deflect out for a corner. From it, Frei unloaded a half-volley of vicious power that Pickford did superbly to tip up and against the crossbar. England scrambled to safety and they would be reprieved again when, following another Switzerland corner, Ricardo Rodriguez worked Pickford with a swerving drive from distance. Embolo might have done better on the rebound only to drag his shot.
England needed something and, out of nothing, they got it in first-half stoppage time. Foden pressed Frei towards the corner flag and the defender’s risky pass was intercepted by a stretching Kyle Walker-Peters, another England debutant. The ball broke for Gallagher and, when his low cross ran through for Shaw, the finish was explosive. Omlin – in for Yann Sommer, who has Covid – felt it fizz past him.
The mood around the Switzerland set-up has been positive under the new manager, Murat Yakin, who replaced Vladimir Petkovic after the Euro finals, when his team had lost on penalties to Spain in the quarter-finals. Yakin’s record before kick-off showed four wins and three draws from seven fixtures.
Two of the draws were against Italy in World Cup qualification and they helped to secure Switzerland’s progress as group winners and condemn Italy to the playoffs, where we all know what happened. Did Switzerland expect to qualify automatically ahead of the European champions? No. Did that make it all the sweeter? Absolutely.
Gallagher played with a rare fearlessness. There were times when Jordan Henderson looked a little exposed in front of the defence, which Southgate would have hated, but Gallagher was determined to express himself, to make the difference in an attacking sense. He played a nice, chipped through ball for Kane early in the second half, from which the captain worked Omlin, and Guéhi went close with a header from the corner.
Enter the substitutes, one of which was Tyrick Mitchell for his debut at left-back. Southgate shuffled again, moving to 4-2-3-1, with Foden as the No 10. White went to right-back and he would lash a drive just high on 72 minutes.
Foden would later be replaced by Jude Bellingham as Southgate finished in a 4-3-3. White did well in his new role and it was his cross that deflected out for the decisive corner. Conor Coady would be denied at the very end but England had done enough.