England head to the World Cup buoyed by a rousing comeback against Germany but a late error by Nick Pope meant under-fire Gareth Southgate’s side had to make do with a 3-3 draw at the end of a frenetic second half.
Among the favourites to triumph in Qatar having reached the semi-finals four years ago and finished runners-up at last summer’s Euros, hope and optimism has seeped away in recent months.
England were relegated from the Nations League top tier following Friday’s loss to Italy and pressure looked set to increase on Southgate, and Harry Maguire, after Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty and a stunning Kai Havertz strike.
But the hosts displayed the kind of resilience and ruthlessness their manager called for in the build-up in front of a sold-out Wembley crowd that did not turn on the group.
Luke Shaw scored England’s first goal from open play in this Nations League campaign to bring hope, with substitute Mason Mount lashing home a leveller eight minutes after they had gone two goals behind.
Wembley was bouncing and the noise went up several notches when Harry Kane slammed home an 83rd-minute penalty following Nico Schlotterbeck’s foul on Jude Bellingham, but there was to be no return to winning ways.
Havertz tapped in after back-up goalkeeper Pope spilled a Serge Gnabry shot, meaning England go to Qatar without a win in six but boosted by a much-needed show of skill and spirit.
It is just 56 days until the Group B opener against Iran and there is plenty to pore over in the wake of this camp.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s omission from the matchday squad dominated the build-up to a game that saw Southgate stick with the much-discussed five-man backline.
There was an impeccably-observed minute’s silence in memory of the Queen following a hearty rendition of ‘God Save the King’ at Wembley, which witnessed a forgettable first half.
Pope, in for the injured Jordan Pickford, looked shaky with the ball at his feet and Gundogan fired narrowly over after one such wobble, with England creating precious little until the 25th minute.
Shaw – one of two changes from Italy – whipped an exquisite ball over to Raheem Sterling, who smartly cut away from two German defenders before getting away a low shot that Marc-Andre ter Stegen superbly stopped.
An uncharacteristically poor cutback from Phil Foden prevented Kane from getting a shot away soon after, with the skipper volleying wide from an acute angle.
Play returned to a more laboured tempo after that. Leroy Sane saw penalty appeals rejected and a hamstring injury led John Stones to be replaced by Kyle Walker.
Sterling saw shots saved by Ter Stegen either side of half-time, before England were hit by a 52nd-minute setback.
Maguire’s name had been chanted by England fans after some others had jeered him before kick-off and the out-of-favour Manchester United captain kicked Jamal Musiala in the box after the teenager intercepted his pass.
Initially nothing was awarded but a VAR review on the pitchside monitor ended with a penalty that Gundogan converted.
“Football’s Coming Home”, teased the German support as England lost composure and shape, with Niklas Sule and Timo Werner having chances before a stunning second from Hansi Flick’s visitors.
Maguire was tackled in the opposition half and Germany launched a counter that ended with Havertz scoring a superb left-footed curler from 20 yards.
England looked dead and buried but fought back impressively.
Firstly, Reece James dug a deep right-footed cross to the far post in the 72nd minute and Shaw managed to squeeze a shot past Ter Stegen and over the line.
Within three minutes there was a second as James played inside to Bukayo Saka, who showed nifty footwork before laying on for fellow substitute Mount to fire home on the edge of the box.
Kane saw a deflected strike fly into the side-netting as England pushed for a winner at the end of a passage of play that had seen Bellingham writhe around in pain having been caught by Schlotterbeck.
Referee Danny Makkelie was advised to go to the monitor and subsequently pointed to the spot, and Kane hammered into the top left-hand corner.
It looked set to be the winner, only for Pope to spill a long-range Gnabry shot in the 87th minute, and Havertz tapped in.
A fine Ter Stegen save prevented Saka from putting the hosts 4-3 up as the clock wound down on the final match before the World Cup.