WARSAW • England remain overwhelming favourites to clinch the sole automatic World Cup 2022 qualifying spot awarded to group winners but manager Gareth Southgate still came in for some criticism on Wednesday.
The Three Lions maintained their top spot and unbeaten run in Group I but lost their 100 per record as they drew 1-1 with Poland after a stoppage-time equaliser by the hosts.
Captain Harry Kane had fired England ahead with a swerving strike in the 72nd minute, as Southgate's side looked set for a sixth straight win. However, the Poles used all five of their substitutes during the game and ended strongly, with Damian Szymanski crashing home a header at the death.
Southgate bizarrely chose not to bring anyone off the bench despite the visitors flagging in the closing stages, leading pundits to question his game management in crunch time.
Former Tottenham midfielder Jamie O'Hara told talkSport radio this was not a one-off issue with Southgate, saying: "It seems like a recurring thing that's happening with the tactical decisions late on in games.
"You've got to think ahead and know that it's the last minute and they're going to pack the box up and create a chance. Do we shore it up? Do I bring on a couple of fresh legs?"
However, the 51-year-old defended his inaction, claiming the group leaders were "in total control of the game".
"You can bring players into the game when it's not so easy in the latter stages," he said. "We knew if we won the game, we were pretty much in Qatar. That isn't the case, we still have work to do, but I can't fault the players in the way they've responded to the summer.
"We were in total control, there was no issue, why disrupt it when you're in control?"
Southgate also said he was glad their toughest test since losing to Italy was out of the way.
Wednesday's game against Poland was the first time England did not made a substitution since the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany.
"Early in the game, we were a little slow to move the ball and Poland pressed us well," he added.
Noting that they had more control as the half wore on, he said: "If there's a criticism, it's that we didn't create enough clear chances from that possession and we didn't get enough players in the box."
Despite the missed opportunity in Warsaw, qualification for Qatar should remain little more than a formality for Southgate's men with clashes against whipping boys Andorra and San Marino still to come in their remaining four matches.
In Group C, Italy recorded their first win since being crowned European champions as Moise Kean and Giacomo Raspadori inspired a crushing 5-0 World Cup qualifying win over Lithuania to strengthen their grip on top spot.
Kean, who was left out of their triumphant Euro 2020 squad, netted twice either side of an Edgaras Utkus own goal, while Raspadori, making his first start for his country, also scored.
"Everything is in their heads and their feet. If they are committed and work seriously, they have great futures. But it is up to them," Italy manager Roberto Mancini told broadcaster Rai.
It was the first time Italy, who endured frustrating draws against Bulgaria and Switzerland in their previous two qualifiers, scored four goals in the first 30 minutes of a match. Giovanni di Lorenzo added a fifth as the Azzurri comfortably extended their record international unbeaten run to 37 matches.
Italy top the standings with 14 points from six games, six ahead of second-placed Switzerland following their goal-less draw away to Northern Ireland.
Spain's 2-0 victory away to Kosovo in Group B dragged them back into automatic qualification contention after Sweden lost 2-1 to Greece. The Swedes now trail leaders La Roja by four points although they still have two games in hand.
Dennis Praet's first-half goal secured a narrow 1-0 away win for Belgium in Group E to move them closer to Qatar 2022.
In Reykjavik, Leroy Sane scored one goal and set up another as Germany made it three wins in a row with a resounding 4-0 victory over Iceland in Group J.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS