London (AFP) – Harry Maguire thundered home a late winner as England beat Poland 2-1 on Wednesday to seize control of their World Cup qualifying group with three wins from three.
Captain Harry Kane gave Gareth Southgate’s men a first-half lead from the penalty spot but they faded at an empty Wembley and were punished when Jakub Moder struck after a defensive howler from John Stones.
England looked likely to drop their first points of the campaign before Manchester United defender Maguire saved Stones’s blushes with five minutes remaining after an assist from the Manchester City man.
The nervy win means England top Group I with nine points after comfortable wins earlier in the international window against San Marino and Albania.
Only the team that finishes top of the group are guaranteed a place at the World Cup finals in Qatar next year.
“We were very good in the first half, we were in control of the game and to concede a goal like we did can hit the team,” Southgate told ITV.
“They stuck at it, they recovered their composure and got an important set-play winner.”
The England boss praised Stones for bouncing back after his potentially costly error, adding: “You can fold in those moments and he didn’t.”
– Lewandowski out –
The visitors, who have not beaten England since 1973, were missing injured Bayern Munich sharpshooter Robert Lewandowski and were depleted following a coronavirus outbreak in the camp.
England made just one change from the side that started Sunday’s match in Tirana, with Chelsea full-back Ben Chilwell coming in for Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.
The home side took the lead their football deserved in the 19th minute after Raheem Sterling charged into the box and was upended by Barnsley defender Michal Helik.
Kane smashed the spot-kick down the middle, giving Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny no chance.
In doing so, he became England’s all-time leading penalty scorer with 10 goals from the spot — moving one clear of Frank Lampard.
The goal forced Poland to be more proactive but Raheem Sterling was a constant danger on the left side of the England attack, nearly setting up the lively Phil Foden and then going on a slaloming run into the opposition penalty area.
Szczesny made a fine save from a powerful Kane shot as England tried to turn the screw but for all their dominance, they were forced to settle for a 1-0 lead at the break.
The home side were again in control at the start of the second half but failed to create clear openings and the visitors equalised against the run of play after Stones was caught in possession.
The City defender, who has been in fine form this season, was in no danger when he received the ball on the right side of the England penalty area but Brighton midfielder Moder robbed him and finished emphatically after collecting an Arkadiusz Milik return pass.
Substitute Milik headed wide when presented with a chance as England struggled to recapture their earlier rhythm against their galvanised opponents.
England huffed and puffed but Southgate stayed patient, refusing to turn to the substitutes’ bench.
He was rewarded when Maguire finished powerfully after central defensive partner Stones headed a corner back across goal.
Defeat for Poland leaves them fourth in the group behind England, Hungary and Albania.
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