In pictures: Poland v England
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Harry Kane moved clear of Michael Owen into a clear fifth place with a 25-yard thunderbolt against Poland but England were denied a sixth straight Group I win by a last-gasp equaliser from midfielder Damian Szymanski.
The England captain’s second-half strike looked to have settled a hard-fought encounter against Poland only for Gareth Southgate’s side to be pegged back late.
It still continued a remarkable run of 15 consecutive goals for Kane in qualifiers.
The England captain has now found the net in all of the qualifiers for Euro 2020 and each of the World Cup qualifiers for Qatar in which he’s played.
Kane may have shredded Robert Lewandowski in the battle of the No 9s with some unmatchable world-class finishing.
But in the final moments England were reminded of one of the fundamental lessons of football by Szymanski. They all count.
And in many ways it was Lewandowski who had the final word, embarrassing Kyle Walker wide on the flank before picking out the perfect cross for his team-mate.
Szymanski’s late header above Luke Shaw was an untidy, bundled effort from close range but it was enough to undo all of the good work England had produced here.
Kane’s earlier sublime effort would not have the impact it deserved.
There is never a bad moment to belt the ball into the back of the net from 30 yards to score what felt to all intents and purposes like an important winner.
But when Kane looked up, stepped forward with purpose and dipped and swerved his shot past Wojciech Szczesny, the last Poland player to have touched the ball was Lewandowski.
He had been presented with a similar opportunity at the other end and rather scuffed a shot which Pickford saved easily before launching the counter-attack that would ultimately break the deadlock.
For all their honest endeavour and eager work-rate, England had been lacking that little something that had earned them their five qualifying wins out of five and a whole host of plaudits.
Reassuringly, though, none of the praise from the summer or the difficult trip to Hungary seems to have mollified what is becoming a formidable international starting eleven.
However, the concern will hang over them mentally as to whether they have to get the job done.
Physically at least, they were more than ready to roll their proverbial sleeves up and match that famous Polish work ethic.
A simmering competitiveness started before the kick-off and spilled over right on the half-time whistle.
Boos and whistles for the English national anthem turned to more honourable applause from the Poland fans thanks in part to Wojciech Szczesny taking the lead.
But nothing could stem the tide of ugly catcalls that met with England’s decision to take the knee before kick-off.
Then right on half-time, Kamil Glik seem to pinch the neck of Walker, Harry Maguire got involved, an untidy scuffle involving a whole host of players broke out and for Gareth Southgate, the break was a blessed relief.
It was a chance to get his players to fight less and think more, and that ultimately became the key to England’s second-half dominance.
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England began to use the ball more cohesively – although agonisingly when Grealish fired a brilliant ball across the face of goal immediately after the break, both Kane and Sterling were loitering for the pull-back.
So when Kane did produce that moment of individual brilliance, England were worthy of their lead.
But, with Southgate refusing to freshen things from the bench, a team who have had failed to convert winning positions in semi-finals and finals began to wobble again.
Pickford had the nation’s collective heart in its mouth when his clearance hit Karol Swiderski and bounced back dangerously toward his goal but he was able to retrieve the situation.
Then the late aberration from Walker, the stand-out lapse in a series of England failures to properly clear their lines.
This time the result is a disappointment, not a disaster.
But it is a reminder that England still need to hone that world-class mental strength to match the world-class talent flowing through the team.
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