Malta 0-4 England: Three Lions cruise to victory in Euro qualifying

IAN LADYMAN: Trent Alexander Arnold makes emphatic point to Gareth Southgate, starring in a new midfield role with a terrific display – and goal – as England coast past weak Malta in 4-0 thumping

  • England earned their third consecutive victory in Euro 2024 qualifying after beating minnows Malta 4-0
  • An own goal opened the scoring, with Trent-Alexander Arnold and Harry Kane also netting in the first half
  • Rampant Three Lions pushed for a fourth goal and found it after Callum Wilson stroked home a late penalty

With a pass, a shot and a cross, Trent Alexander Arnold made his own emphatic and eloquent contribution to the ongoing debate about his value or otherwise to this England team.

As England coasted past one of Europe’s weakest international teams at half pace, Alexander-Arnold was Gareth Southgate’s most impressive player by a distance. 

Playing in the midfield position many feel will become his permanent home for Liverpool, Alexander-Arnold sprinkled quality and audacity over every yard of the National Stadium here in Ta’ Qali. The contributions he made to England’s first three goals were the highlights but there was more besides.

Yes, this was only Malta and that fact should encourage perspective. There will be some who view the 24-year-old’s performance as proof that he should never be left out of a Southgate team again. This was not that. Against such meagre opposition, it could never possibly be an argument-closing display.

Nevertheless, it was a terrific performance from a gifted player and one that will ensure Southgate faces another stream of questions about a footballer he has not always been convinced by between now and Monday’s game against North Macedonia at Old Trafford.

England continued their perfect start in Euro 2024 qualifying after easing to a 4-0 victory against minnows Malta

Harry Kane stroked home his 56th goal for the Three Lions in the first half, with the visitors cruising to all three points

Trent Alexander-Arnold was handed the No 10 shirt and started in midfield, and justified the decision by scoring a thunderbolt

Gareth Southgate will be able to reflect positively on a performance that enabled his side to take full control of Group C

The national manager’s reservations are about Alexander-Arnold’s defending. He is not alone in having those. This is why he had fallen so far down the right-back queue with England that he arguably would not have gone to the World Cup at all had Chelsea’s Reece James not been injured. Whilst there he played just 33 minutes as a substitute.

In this new and developing position he does not have to defend as much. Here, he didn’t have to do it at all. Against better, sharper and more savvy opposition, it would be different. Can we really see him in a midfield three in a big game ahead of Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham – injured for this one – Declan Rice or Kalvin Phillips? That is where the conversation grows ever more complicated.

Here he made his point during a first half he wrote his name all over. A sublime pass over and down the line released Bukayo Saka early and England led through an own goal. Then, in the 28th minute, he scored his own goal from distance, absolute ripper. It was possible to hear the sweetness of the contact from the Press box. Soon after Alexander-Arnold was to the fore again, driving down the left to start a move from which England won and scored a penalty.

This was a victory secured in the first half They were not terribly impressive thereafter and needed another penalty, unjustly awarded for handball, late on to further decorate the scoreline.

England’s domination of the ball was absolute, however. Malta – ranked 172nd in the world – were unable to command possession or territory. In truth they were not actually trying to. The plan was to sit deep and limit the damage For a while it worked. As we approached the half hour, England were only a goal ahead. But the two that arrived in the space of three minutes at this juncture ensured the home team’s time as a competitive presence in this game was over.


Malta XI: Bonello, Apap, Borg, Muscat, Mbong, Kristensen (Muscat, 60), Guillaumier (Yankam, 46), Teuma, Attard (Corbolan, 87), Nwoko (Satariano, 60), Jones (Degabriele, 76)

Substitutes: M. Grech, Debono, Camenzuli, Shaw, Grech, Dimech, Borg

Bookings: Kristensen

Manager: Michele Marcolini

England XI: Pickford, Trippier, Guehi, Maguire, Shaw (Mings, 60), Rice, Henderson (Rashford, 60), Alexander-Arnold, Saka (Foden, 46), Kane (Wilson, 60), Maddison (Eze, 70)

Substitutes: Walker, Ramsdale, Stones, Phillips, Grealish, Gallagher, Johnstone

Goals: Apap OG 9, Alexander-Arnold 28, Kane 31, pen, Wilson 83, pen

Manager: Gareth Southgate 

An early own goal from Ferdinando Apap set the tone for the one-sided showdown, with Bukayo Saka’s ball causing havoc

Saka’s delivery toward the near post looked destined to reach Kane, only for Apap to divert the ball into his own net

Southgate’s England were pretty much what he would have wished them to be. Energetic, eager and able to use the spaces presented to them to move the ball quickly and with penetration. And it was from their first truly incisive move of the night that they took the lead in the ninth minute.

Stationed on the right of England’s midfield three Alexander-Arnold was able to look for Saka down that side or switch play to James Maddison on the other. Here it was Saka who benefited from the Liverpool player’s vision and ability to execute what his mind tells him is possible as a reverse pass over the Malta left-back set the Arsenal player away and his low cross was turned in by home defender Ferdinando Apap under pressure from Kane.

Having suffered at the hands of their travelling fans the last time they were here in 2017, England’s early goal was useful. Always in control and always in the Malta half, there was never any doubt about the outcome but you need goals on nights like this and for the next twenty minutes England only threatened from distance, Saka curling a shot over and Maddison driving a free-kick at goalkeeper Henry Bonello.

It seemed as though Alexander-Arnold may have been a better candidate for that set piece but within five minutes he had scored anyway. A neat Maddison dummy set the Leicester player free and when the ball was half cleared, Alexander-Arnold applied one of those whipped right foot shots that was so perfect from 25 yards that Bonello had not a prayer as it sped across and away from him in to the right hand corner of his goal.

Alexander-Arnold seized upon a loose ball midway through the first past and duly dispatched his strike into the far corner

Callum Wilson was brought off the bench in the second half and, just like Kane, made no mistake with his own spot-kick

Kane was fouled by Matthew Guillaumier after his low effort was parried back out into the danger zone by the goalkeeper

Saka hobbled off the pitch gingerly after picking up a knock but was able to continue playing after receiving treatment

It was the purity and sheer certainty of that shot that stood out. It was, in its way, quite beautiful.

It would have hurt Malta, too, as until that point they would have been satisfied. Soon two became three, though. Alexander-Arnold seized a loose ball to reach the by line on the left and that set in motion a series of events that led to the penalty. The ball was again half cleared and this time Declan Rice drove low. Bonello should have held the ball but couldn’t and as Kane closed in Matthew Guillaumier brought him down. Kane’s penalty, his 56th goal for England, was emphatically struck.

England were less impressive from that point on. Saka succumbed to a knock and was replaced by Phil Foden, presumably after the Manchester City player had passed a breath test. Later in the half Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze came on for a debut.

By the time we reached the final quarter hour, the England end of the stadium was emptying fast. There was, it was thought, a bar out the back. But those remaining saw one of those dreadful VAR penalties awarded when a Callum Wilson shot struck Malta captain Steve Borg on the arm. With Kane off the field, Wilson placed the kick to Bonello’s left.

Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze (left) was introduced for his senior Three Lions debut and enjoyed an impressive cameo

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