Gareth Southgate praised Rico Lewis after the Manchester City youngster bounced back from giving away a harsh penalty on his international debut and impressed during England’s dull 1-1 draw with North Macedonia.
Lewis, who turns 19 on Tuesday, did not panic when he was penalised for an innocuous challenge following a lengthy VAR review at the end of the first half at the Tose Proeski Arena. He looked mature at left-back and boosted his hopes of being included in England’s squad for Euro 2024.
“He was excellent,” Southgate said. “We’re not looking at him for being at fault in any way. His composure with the ball was outstanding. He should be very proud because we were very, very pleased with what he did.
“Great composure, great resilience. We didn’t feel he had anything to come back from. I know sometimes as a player you might feel that. But we thought there was no crime.”
Southgate felt no need to console Lewis after North Macedonia ended the first half with a 1-0 lead. “We just pointed out how well he was playing and how well the team were playing and that we had to keep probing,” England’s manager said. “We knew a goal would come and we thought more would come.”
England equalised moments after Harry Kane’s introduction for Ollie Watkins, Jani Atanasov scoring an own goal. Watkins had been given a chance to show he could be Kane’s understudy but the England striker managed only 11 touches as the side’s qualification campaign came to an underwhelming end.
The draw for the Euro 2024 finals will take place at 5pm (GMT) on 2 December in Hamburg, where 24 teams will be placed in six groups.
Pot 2 will include the other group winners – Denmark, Hungary, Albania, Turkey/Croatia and Romania/Switzerland – and the top-ranked runner-up, Austria.
The playoffs will offer 12 teams another chance to qualify as they are drawn into three four-team knockout 'paths' this Thursday. The playoff places and paths are based on performances in the Nations League.
“Ollie, look, it was a difficult game,” Southgate said. “We weren’t quite able to create the clear chance for him. But he did fine, it’s not easy when you’re coming in in those circumstances but that’s international football.”
England finished first in Group C and will be top seeds at the Euros. Southgate was pleased that his side have not lost this year. “If you’d said at the start of the campaign that we would be eight wins, two draws at the end of the year, it’s a pretty good record given the fixtures that we’ve had,” he said. “We can now start to look forward.”
The draw for the Euros takes place on 2 December. “The next exciting bit is the draw at the and we will see what the path looks like,” Southgate said. “There are a lot of players to keep a track on.”