England’s final competitive match before the World Cup ended with frustration rather than a flourish, yet Gareth Southgate took the positives in Lithuania after in-form Harry Kane once again led from the front.
Aiming paper planes at the pitch gave fans more entertainment than the Three Lions against Slovenia on Thursday – a night when victory saw qualification for next summer’s finals in Russia secured with a game to spare.
Kane’s late goal gave England an underwhelming 1-0 win at Wembley and Sunday’s trip to Vilnius saw the same scorer secure the same result, despite the side ranked 120th in the world threatening to give the experimental visitors a bloody nose.
The 24-year-old’s first-half penalty proved enough for victory as the Three Lions finished Group F unbeaten, with fans applauding the team’s efforts having earlier resorted to gallows humour by likening the performance to five-time World Cup winners Brazil.
“Well, pleased with some aspects of it,” Southgate said, having handed Harry Winks, Harry Maguire and Aaron Cresswell their first England starts.
“We obviously gave three full debuts and an opportunity to some players that we wanted to see. I think that also kept the motivation of the team high. There were enough players with a point to prove.
“In many aspects we moved the ball quite well. I was very pleased with Harry Winks in that respect.
“For me, one of the big things when you play for England isn’t necessarily the opposition, it’s whether you can handle wearing an England shirt.
“I thought he did that in a really accomplished way. Looked confident, looked composed, tried to play forward when he could, so that was a real positive.
“We just lacked a bit of quality around the final third and it has been a familiar theme in this qualification campaign, really.
“The challenge is you play a packed defence who don’t even come out at 1-0 down. We have to find a way to combat that.
“Today, again, we didn’t manage to do that. I think it was right to look at the front three that we did and I think those three and the likes of (Raheem) Sterling, (Adam) Lallana, (Jesse) Lingard, (Jamie) Vardy, we have got some good attacking players and feel we will score goals.”
The challenge will certainly be different moving onto high-profile friendlies against Germany and Brazil, but Kane’s performance is sure to be just as crucial after netting his 15th goal in his last 10 matches for club and country.
“It’s a fantastic record and his finishing quality is top – as good as anybody I’ve played with or worked with,” former England defender Southgate said.
“I’m never in any doubt that when he has a good opportunity, that it’s going to be on target and that there’s a fair chance he scores. We’re fortunate to have him.
“But I also think the likes of (Marcus) Rashford, at 19, just need a bit more time to come to the fore.”
It was another impressive performance in the captain’s armband by Kane, who has scored on each of the four occasions he has led the country out.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s led, both in terms of leading by example on the pitch with his performances, but also as he is with the group,” Southgate said.
“I know everybody wants me to get a shift on, but, again, I want to give myself time because what else would you write for the next couple of months if I did it?”
Lithuania head coach Edgaras Jankauskas was proud of his side’s display as “more things worked out than didn’t”.
“The players gave their all on the pitch,” the former Porto striker said.
“Looking at history it is our best game against England in terms of realising our tactical plan.
“The first half was actually one of the best we played in this campaign. The players showed how much they can do.
“It’s just a pity we couldn’t take our chances. We had nine shots and I had a feeling that the goal was coming.”
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