England will head to the World Cup on the back of a six-match winless sequence but with at least some pride and confidence restored after a thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Germany in the Nations League on Monday.
Gareth Southgate’s listless side trailed 2-0 to Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty and a superb effort by Kai Havertz with less than 20 minutes remaining and boos beginning to resound at Wembley in its final Group A3 match.
But it responded in thrilling fashion with goals by Luke Shaw and Mason Mount in the space of four minutes drawing it level - England’s first goals from open play in 5-1/2 competitive matches.
Harry Kane’s 83rd-minute penalty then appeared to have given Southgate’s side a morale-boosting victory.
But the four-time world champion Germany, itself in a poor run of form heading to Qatar, salvaged a point as Havertz capitalised on a goalkeeping error by Nick Pope in the 87th.
Substitute Bukayo Saka almost won it for England late on as the fans were left scratching their heads at why the host had taken so long to play with any freedom.
England finished bottom of the group with three points behind Germany on seven, Hungary with 10 and Italy, which topped the group with 11 points to reach the Nations League final four.
It is more than 100 years since England last went six competitive games winless but it at least changed the narrative with a stirring fightback against Germany.
“The boys have been under pressure with recent results and we all came out here with a point to prove,” Kane said.
“There are lessons we can still learn from the mistakes we made but we scored three goals and I feel like this will put us in a positive mindset ahead of the World Cup.”
Both sides needed a pre-World Cup tonic after poor Nations League campaigns with England suffering the ignominy of relegation after losing 1-0 away to Italy last Friday, the same night Germany lost by the same scoreline at home to Hungary.
The last time the two heavyweights met at Wembley, in the Euro 2020 finals, England won 2-0 and were riding a wave of euphoria. But the mood has turned sour mainly because of a woeful lack of goals -- Kane’s late penalty in Germany being its only goal in its previous five Nations League games.
A lacklustre first half underlined England’s lack of creativity although Raheem Sterling had two chances - first when he was played in by Shaw to force a fine save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen and then shooting tamely from a good position.
Germany was equally bereft of attacking spark but was gifted an early chance when Pope’s nervy clearance was charged down and Gundogan curled the ball over the bar.
Germany manager Hansi Flick sent on forward Timo Werner to partner his former Chelsea teammate Havertz for the second half and the visitor went ahead in the 52nd minute with a goal that summed up England defender Harry Maguire’s recent woes.
Having given the ball away to Jamal Musiala, Maguire tried to win it back but hacked down Musiala and a penalty was eventually awarded after a VAR intervention.
Gundogan coolly slid the spot kick into the corner and it soon got even worse for England when Werner found Havertz after a counter-attack and he curled a beauty past Pope.
With the crowd grumbling, Southgate’s side needed a quick response and got it in incredible fashion.
First Shaw was found at the back post by a Reece James cross and squeezed his shot through Ter Stegen’s legs.
Then, like London buses, another goal arrived.
Saka dribbled in from the right and played the ball to fellow substitute Mount who smashed an instant shot into the net from the edge of the area.
When Bellingham was crudely hacked down by Nico Schlotterbeck and Kane smashed his spot kick high past Ter Stegen England fans were in party mode.
But Havertz sobered things up by capitalising on a late gift as keeper Pope fumbled Serge Gnabry’s shot.