After securing their place in the Nations League Finals in the summer of 2027, the England staff and players had plenty of time out to prepare for future exploits.
However, we soon received our draw for the 2028 European Championships qualifiers. And we got a decent group alongside Poland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cyprus and Kazakhstan. The qualification bid begins at home to Poland then away to Kazakhstan in March 2027 (in 4 months).
Then the day later we were drawn against Portugal in the Nations League semi-finals, which will take place on 3 June 2027. The winner of that game will face Germany or Holland and, it’s worth remembering, The FA don’t care about how we perform.
Euro Champ qualifiers
First though, we needed to start our qualification campaign for the European Championships. Our group began with a home game against Poland, and preparation wasn’t ideal with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane picking up injuries in the week before. Marcus Rashford and striker Chris Tipple came in for them.
Rashford also got a start, but his performance reminded me why I’d chosen to drop him from the squad. He was awful, as was the majority of our team. We struggled to create anything at all until Rashford’s replacement Giovanni Reyna made all the difference.
In the 90th minute, captain Trent Alexander-Arnold picked up the ball out wide and hit a trademark long ball, Reyna rose high in the box and scored a magnificent header from some 20 yards out. The ball flew towards the near post, hit it and bounced back along the line and crept into the opposite corner. A very unconvincing performance, but a 1-0 win all the same.
After that match, I got offered an interview for the vacant Roma job, which I declined.
But three days later we were back in action away to Kazakhstan. I made a few changes, with Reyna, Harvey Elliott and centre-back Takudzwa Marufu coming in for Fikayo Tomori.
The same two heroes of the Poland game were at it immediately, with Alexander-Arnold crossing for Reyna to score inside 4 minutes. Phil Foden found Ryan Sessegnon flying down the left wing, he cut inside and hit a lovely shot inside the near post to double the lead, then Reyna setup Declan Rice to make it 3-0 on 17 minutes. And 8 minutes later Rice played in Elliott to make it 4-0. The Kazakhs hadn’t even had a shot and were 4 down. Alexander-Arnold bagged a second assist as he put a goal on a plate for Mason Greenwood to make it five, and it was 5-0 at half-time.
Elliott became the first to get two goals as he smashed home a penalty on 57 minutes. We made a few changes, including a debut for Faustino Anjorin. He’d been in great form for Chelsea with the second most goals in the Premier League, and immediately continued it for England by scoring after just 12 minutes of his debut. Another player we brought on was Reiss Nelson for just his 2nd cap, and he duly teed up Rice to smash home the 8th in the 89th minute. Kazkhstan 0-8 England.
A few weeks later, another job interview offer came courtesy of Schalke and it was swiftly declined.
Nations League Finals
We then had 66 days to wait until the summer of international football at the Nations League semi-finals. Annoyingly, Sterling again got injured just before it and was out for a month, so he wouldn’t be playing. But the squad looked like this:
We took on Portugal in the semi-final and got off to a flyer with two wonder goals. First, Rice laid the ball to Jude Bellingham who hit an absolute thunderbolt into the top corner. Then a minute later, Elliott received a pass from Tomori on the half-way line, went on a mazy run all the way into the box and poked home.
And things got even better ten minutes later as we were awarded a penalty and Elliott smashed home for his second to make it 3-0. Portugal got a goal back on the verge of half-time, so we went cautious for the second half and that effectively killed the game off for a 3-1 win.
Our final opponents were Holland, who had defeated Germany 2-1 with goals from Steven Bergwijn and Manchester United striker Ali Hammami. In truth, it wasn’t the best of matches but we just about shaded it in terms of chances created.
It’s in tight games like this, where players capable of moments of brilliance really matter. And that man, yet again, was Jude Bellingham. Receiving the ball from Elliott to the left of the goal some 30 yards out, the Tottenham midfielder looked up and smashed it goalwards leaving the goalkeeper absolutely no chance. It was nearly as good as his goal against Portugal.
Holland pushed to get back into it and Calvin Stengs came closest with a shot that was well saved by Renato Redjepi. While substitute Greenwood should have made it a comfortable finish when put through on goal by Foden, but only shot straight at the keeper. England were Nations League Champions!
This wrapped up England’s second international trophy of all-time and, of course, this was my first trophy as a manager.
Strangely, we then had a Friendly against Jamaica a few days later. We rotated the team and beat Jamaica 4-1 with first-half goals from Foden and Greenwood then substitutes Kane, who made it 59 international goals, and Reiss Nelson’s first goal for his country late on.
On the same day that our Under 20s played Germany in the Under 20s World Cup semi-finals and won 3-1. But they lost 4-1 in the final to Spain.
I’m getting quite into this save now and enjoy the international management. So I think I’m going to keep pushing ahead to at least see out the European Championship qualification and, hopefully, Euro 2028 itself.
So next time, we’ll crack on with trying to qualify for the Euros after a solid start to our group.