England captain Harry Kane got a yellow card for diving and not a single shooting chance until his inevitable goal came in the 75th minute of a 2-0 win over Malta in European Championship qualifying on Friday.
The Bayern Munich striker extended his scoring streak in a prolific season to eight straight games for club and country in a routine win for England, which had already secured the Group E win last month.
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His record-extending 62nd goal for England came after a slick series of passes that sliced through Malta’s defense and raised the tone of an often drab game between teams ranked fourth and 171st in the world.
While England took the lead in the eighth minute from an own goal by Malta defender Enrique Pepe, neither team produced a shot on target from any attacker until the 64th minute.
“It was a game where we didn’t start well and if you don’t start well it is hard to pick the game up,” England coach Gareth Southgate acknowledged.
The most surprising moment in the first half — at least for Kane himself — was when he was shown a yellow card for simulation when thinking he had earned a penalty. Replays showed Kane appearing to push his left foot into contact with the onrushing Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello.
Southgate took the opportunity to give a debut to Cole Palmer as a second-half substitute, capping a week when the Chelsea playmaker scored a late penalty in a 4-4 thriller against his former club Manchester City, and gave Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold a more creative role in midfield.
“I thought he used the ball really well,” Southgate said of Alexander-Arnold. “He has outstanding quality and him and Phil (Foden) in the first half were the two who looked like opening the game up for us.”
The win should ensure England is among the group winners with the best records who are in the pot of top-seeded teams when the Euro 2024 draw is made on December 2 in Hamburg.
Who joins England in Germany as runner-up in the group will be decided in a showdown game Monday between Ukraine and Italy, who are now level on points.
Italy’s 5-2 win over North Macedonia on Friday gave the defending champion the tiebreaker edge over Ukraine. Italy needs only a draw Monday to advance when Ukraine hosts that game in Leverkusen, Germany.