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Rico Lewis’ England debut ruined by ridiculous VAR call… Man...
SKOPJE was the unlikely setting for the start of Wayne Rooney’s goalscoring greatness for England.
Two decades on, the mountainous capital of North Macedonia staged what, in years to come, could resemble another momentous moment with Rico Lewis’ Three Lions debut.GettyRico Lewis was controversially ruled to have fouled Bojan Miovski, leading to a penalty opener for North Macedonia in a 1-1 draw[/caption] Channel 4VAR penalised Man City starlet Lewis for this challenge[/caption]
Though unlike Rooney’s high of breaking his duck in 2003, poor Lewis’ big day was ruined by a ridiculously harsh VAR call.
But that farcical decision aside, there was more than enough from the teenager’s display here to see why there is so much buzz surrounding him.
And why it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he goes to the Euros next summer.
Manchester City’s whizkid became the 17th youngest starter in his country’s history as he filled in at left-back one day shy of his 19th birthday, which he celebrates today.
Rooney still holds the record aged 17 years 160 days against Australia at Upton Park back in February 2003.
But Wazza did not net his first goal for England until seven months later in a 2-1 win at what was known back then as the City Park Stadium.
It was the first of a trail-blazing 53 for his nation, a feat later surpassed by Harry Kane, who had the rare experience of starting a qualifier on the bench here.
Who knows if Lewis can have anywhere near the kind of international impact Rooney had or Kane is still having.
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There have been others even younger than the Bury lad to start for England whose star quickly lost its shine after such a bright beginning, like Micah Richards, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jadon Sancho.
But given how blown away Pep Guardiola has been with the versatile youngster, dubbing him one of the best he has ever coached, the hype is understandable.
Lewis has said he sees his best position as a No8 in midfield.
Yet with Gareth Southgate facing a dearth of left-backs, that was where he lined up last night, on the team-sheet at least.
In reality, Lewis played as a central attacking midfielder at times when England had the ball, in a similar manner to how Ange Postecoglou deploys Destiny Udogie for Tottenham.
Speak to people close to Lewis and they talk of his self-confidence, which is strong though not bordering on arrogance.
That was clear from the off, whether it be how happy he was to receive possession in tight areas, take on shots when opportunities arose or even how gave an encouraging high-five to Declan Rice after the Arsenal man had won a throw-in.
Heck, even how he cheekily booted the ball into an empty net after the whistle had gone after the break.PALewis impressed, not least with amazing confidence for a teen[/caption]
Lewis looked a natural fit at this level, showing why he is the first player to leapfrog the Under-21s, barring the odd cap, to the seniors since Jude Bellingham.
Kyle Walker, his City team-mate and England captain for the night, allowed Lewis to hold the England pennant for the team photo before exchanging it with Macedonian skipper Enis Bardhi before kick-off.
Bardhi was then the beneficiary of the bizarre VAR-assisted call to deem Lewis to have caught Aberdeen striker Bojan Miovski in the face while winning a header, firing home the resulting penalty after his initial strike had been saved.
Lewis had done nothing wrong, jumping with eyes only for the ball, and his performance did not deserve such a decision.
No one outside of City’s academy had heard of Lewis during the last Euros.
He only made his club debut last August.
But given what an asset he looked here, his versatility and Southgate’s left-back issues, being on the plane to Germany in seven months would no longer be a massive shock.
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