KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY: The Football Association and Wembley paid a worthy tribute to the late Sir Bobby Charlton before England stuttered out the 2-0 win over Malta which lifted them to a place among the top seeds at the UEFA Euro finals in Germany next year.

An early own goal from defender Enrico Pepe launched them on their way to a Group C victory with captain Harry Kane scoring a second late in the second half.

Sir Geoff Hurst, now the only surviving member of the England team who won the World Cup in 1966, joined FA chair Debbie Hewitt in laying a wreath and No9 shirt in the centre circle to start a one-minute’s applause before the action was set under way.

Malta, who had lost all seven of their previous qualifiers, went close to opening the scoring through Reims’ Teddy Teuma in the first minute with his 20-metre drive skidding inches wide of the diving Jordan Pickford’s right-hand post.

Six minutes later and England were ahead after their first serious said when Phil Foden’s attempted short cross from the right was deflected into goal by lukless defender Pepe.

Captain Kane was booked for diving after he fell over the arms of diving keeper Bonello and thus Malta hung on safely to halftime. England had been disappointing but, once again, in the absence of players such as Jude Bellingham and John Stones through, they looked like so many strangers.

England manager Gareth Southgate evinced his halftime frustration by bringing on Bukayo Saka in place of the anonymous Conor Gallagher and Kyle Walker in place of Fikayo Tomori who had looked unhappy at leftback.

Kane finally struck a second goal in the 76th minute – his 25th at Wemblety for England – and was then caught in an offside position as Declan Rice shot home and referee Branco Godinho disallowed what would have been a third England goal.

Italy win

Federico Chiesa scored twice, in the other Group C clash, as Italy secured a 5-2 home victory against North Macedonia, giving them an edge ahead of a deciding encounter with Ukraine on Monday for a place at Euro 2024.

The victory ensures that Italy only need a draw against Ukraine to secure a top-two finish in the group along with already-qualified England and reach next year’s finals in Germany.

Italy broke the deadlock after 17 minutes when an unmarked Matteo Darmian headed in a corner at the back post, with Chiesa doubling the advantage four minutes before the break.

In first-half stoppage time, Italy grabbed their third when Chiesa received a through ball inside the box and scored with a deflected shot that looped into the far top corner.

North Macedonia injected energy into the match after 52 minutes when Jani Atanasov nodded in a close-range cross, before scoring his second goal with a deflected shot in the 74th minute.

Italy’s Giacomo Raspadori dashed the visitors’ hopes nine minutes before time with a goal from a tricky angle after receiving a through ball inside the box while Stephan El Shaarawy added Italy’s fifth in stoppage time.