LONDON – Gareth Southgate hopes England will feel the benefit of being put under intense pressure in recent days at the World Cup after fighting back from 2-0 down to salvage a 3-3 draw against Germany on Monday.
The Three Lions had already been relegated from the top tier of the Nations League and will head to Qatar on a six-game winless run.
The knives were being sharpened for Southgate after his faith in Harry Maguire backfired for two German goals early in the second half.
Centre-back Maguire has been publicly backed by the England boss despite being dropped at club level by Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag.
Ilkay Gundogan slotted home the opener from the penalty spot after Maguire gifted possession to Jamal Musiala and then chopped down the Bayern Munich midfielder.
Kai Havertz then curled brilliantly into the top corner after Maguire was dispossed in the German half.
England had failed to score from open play in any of their opening five games in Group A3.
But two goals in three minutes transformed the atmosphere around Wembley and the scrutiny on Southgate’s position heading to Qatar.
Luke Shaw was also restored to the starting line-up despite his lack of game time at United and started the fightback by volleying in at the back post.
Moments later, two of Southgate’s substitutes combined to deadly effect as Bukayo Saka set up Mason Mount to curl home.
Harry Kane looked to have completed the turnaround from the penalty spot seven minutes from time after Nico Schlotterbeck’s challenge on Jude Bellingham was punished following a VAR review.
Yet, there was more drama to come as Nick Pope spilled Serge Gnabry’s shot and Havertz pounced on the rebound to snatch Germany a point.
RELIEF FOR SOUTHGATE
Despite the disappointment of a late equaliser, there was relief for Southgate that England’s attack finally came to life after accusations that his conservative tactics were to blame for a lack of goals.
“The whole experience has been what we needed,” said Southgate, who had been booed by England fans after a 1-0 defeat to Italy in Milan on Friday.
“You are going to have pressure in a World Cup. You can try to avoid pressure, but it’s coming.
“It’s better that we feel it and know how we deal with it. The players reacted in the right way – we showed character but a lot of quality.”
The home side had plenty of chances to end their goal drought even in a scoreless first half.
Raheem Sterling twice shot too close to Marc-Andre ter Stegen with just the German goalkeeper to beat, while Kane would have had a tap in but for a poor cross from Phil Foden.
Germany were seeking to bounce back from their first defeat under Hansi Flick after their hopes of reaching the Nations League final four were ended by losing 1-0 at home to Hungary on Friday.
“We made individual mistakes – it can’t happen that we give away a lead like that,” said a frustrated Flick. “But we came back, that’s the positive. There’s some work for us to do, but we’re optimistic.”
Germany came alive after the break with Musiala, who played for England at youth level, particularly impressive.
Dutch referee Danny Makkelie needed the assistance of VAR to see Maguire’s mistimed challenge on Musiala as he tried to atone for his error in giving the ball away.
Gundogan coolly slotted into the bottom corner and it seemed game over when Havertz arrowed home his shot from outside the box with 23 minutes to go.
However, three goals in 11 minutes got the England support back on side and gave the team some impetus to build on heading to Qatar.
Any doubt over who Southgate will start in goal against Iran on November 21 appears to over though, as long as Jordan Pickford has recovered from a thigh injury that kept him out of this squad.
Pope has impressed in his early weeks as Newcastle’s new number one, but would have done much better to palm Gnabry’s shot to safety and Havertz took full advantage.