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England held by North Macedonia in Euro qualifier
England narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat against North Macedonia as they wrapped up a place among the top seeds at Euro 2024 with a 1-1 draw in Skopje on Monday.
Gareth Southgate's side trailed to Enis Bardhi's first-half strike before Jani Atanasov's own goal gifted the visitors their second-half equaliser at the Tose Proeski Arena.
Having finished as Group C winners with six victories and two draws, England will be in the first pot of Euro 2024 seeds alongside Germany, Portugal, France, Spain and Belgium.
That should increase their chances of landing a favourable group when the draw for next year's tournament in Germany is made on December 2.
But whoever England are pitted against, Southgate will know they need a significant improvement on this spluttering display to live up to their billing as one of the favourites to win the Euros.
Southgate this week challenged fourth-placed England to leapfrog Argentina, France and Brazil to become FIFA's number one team in the world rankings.
But even beating North Macedonia, 66th in the rankings, proved beyond Southgate's injury-hit side.
The current international break has appeared an unwanted distraction for England players in the midst of draining Premier League and Champions League campaigns.
Southgate admitted England had been "flat" in their lacklustre 2-0 win over Malta on Friday and once again they were unable to impose themselves on inferior opposition.
The initial signs were promising for England as Declan Rice smashed a fierce drive against the post from 20 yards.
England crushed North Macedonia 7-0 at Old Trafford in June, but it soon became obvious there would be no repeat.
The ineffective Ollie Watkins, deputising for rested England striker Harry Kane, headed wide when he should have hit the target.
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For all their territorial dominance, England were fortunate not to concede a penalty when Harry Maguire stumbled and clearly shoved Elif Elmas.
Referee Filip Glova waved play on and VAR upheld his decision to North Macedonia's intense frustration.
If that was a debatable call, North Macedonia's luck quickly turned as they benefitted from an equally dubious decision in the 41st minute.
When Rico Lewis jumped to head the ball away from Bojan Miovski, the England left-back's out-stretched arm caught the striker in the head, sending him sprawling in the area.
It looked like accidental contact by Lewis and a theatrical fall from Miovski, yet Glova awarded a penalty after checking the pitchside monitor.
Jordan Pickford dived to his left to save Bardhi's spot-kick, but the Macedonian alertly pounced on the rebound to fire home from close range.
Faced with an England debut to forget, Manchester City left-back Lewis tried to make amends with a low strike from the edge of the area, but Stole Dimitrievski was equal to the teenager's effort.
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Trent Alexander-Arnold was again playing in a central midfield role rather than the right-back position he occupies for Liverpool.
He nearly equalised with a stinging shot that Dimitrievski tipped over at full-stretch.
As Southgate's frustration mounted, England thought they had equalised two minutes after half-time.
Jack Grealish bundled in Bukayo Saka's cross, but the goal was correctly disallowed by VAR for offside against the Manchester City winger.
Against opponents throwing themselves into tackles with abandon, England had to dig deep before finally getting back on level terms in the 59th minute.
Kane had just come off the bench seconds earlier when he challenged for Phil Foden's corner, forcing Atanasov to divert the ball into his own net.