Sunday 9 June 2019 6:13 pm

Pickford plays the hero and Alexander-Arnold stars as Three Lions claim third place at Nations League

It took 120 minutes of goalless play followed by a penalty shoot-out that went to sudden death but in the end England claimed the victory over Switzerland that they more than merited and third place in the Nations League.

Just as in Thursday’s semi-final defeat by Holland, VAR denied England a win in regular time that they believed they had achieved, this time when substitute Callum Wilson was found to have tugged defdender Manuel Akanji before following up Dele Alli’s saved header in the 84th minute.

Missed chances, the most glaring falling to Raheem Sterling, and smome smart stops by Yann Sommer prevented England from capitalising from persistently dangerous attacks, most going through the scintillating Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Read more: How Holland beat England in semi-finals

But six flawless spot kicks – one from Jordan Pickford himself – set up the England stopper to make a flying save from Josip Drmic and ensure Gareth Southgate’s men ended the summer on a positive note today at the Estadio D Afonso Henriques in Guimaraes.

Kane knits England attack

He may have been left out against Holland over concerns about his freshness but England captain Harry Kane was pin-sharp on his return to the starting XI.

The Tottenham centre-forward showed his importance to the team’s build-up play, repeatedly dropping deep to receive the ball and spread it wide.

One such move led to a low Alexander-Arnold cross that Sterling would have surely scored with had he made any contact, while Kane showed nimble footwork to feed Sterling for an earlier chance that his strike partner could only side-foot at Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer.

Kane was unlucky not to score himself when Sommer tipped his brilliant, disguised chip onto the bar in the second minute and perhaps should have done better than head wide when picked out by Alexander-Arnold early in the second half.

Trent puts Walker in shade

Most of England’s incisive play came down the right flank and that was down to the outstanding Alexander-Arnold.

Aside from his low cross that Sterling missed and the delivery that Harry Kane nodded the wrong side of the far post, the Liverpool full-back also whipped in two dangerous high balls for Dele Alli, one of which forced a smart save from Sommer.

On top of an exemplary campaign with Liverpool which culminated in Champions League glory, and with renewed doubts about Kyle Walker’s form, the 20-year-old is making it difficult for Southgate to leave him out.

A worthwhile week

England came into the inaugural Nations League finals with high hopes, so defeat to Holland revived questions about the value of this tournament.

This had far more competitiveness and value than a friendly, however, and it is worth remembering that England would have been playing Euro 2020 qualifiers this week had they not reached this stage.

Read more: Does club success breed international achievement?

This was, then, useful tournament experience and the quality of opposition and intensity of matches made it even more so.

Southgate was able to trial new combinations and systems – he made seven changes here and switched to a diamond midfield – in realistic conditions and give new players – Harry Maguire, Ross Barkley and Jadon Sancho – their first kicks in an England penalty-shoot-out.