Declan Rice urges England to finish 2023 with a ‘bang’ in North Macedonia

Declan Rice has called on England to end an unbeaten 2023 with a “bang” by winning their final Euro 2024 qualifier away to North Macedonia.

England have not suffered defeat since their World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of France last December and sealed their spot at next summer’s finals with two games to spare.

Rice’s Arsenal team-mate Bukayo Saka hit a hat-trick in a 7-0 thrashing of North Macedonia in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in June.

After a drab 2-0 win over Malta on Friday, Rice is keen for England to put in a better showing to bring the curtain down on a strong calendar year.

“I think especially the other night after Malta there is just a bit of pride in ourselves that we need to raise our level,” the Arsenal midfielder said.

“We need to put out a statement and it would be a good way to end the year. We are currently unbeaten since the World Cup so it is down to us to go out tomorrow night, put on a performance.

“You need to be mentally prepared, have the right mentality and be ready for a hostile environment and make sure we go out of this year with a bang. We will be ready for whatever they throw at us.”

Rice will collect his 48th cap in Monday’s game and the former West Ham captain admits he was “gutted” that a controversial VAR call cost him a fourth England goal in the Malta win.

Just moments after Harry Kane had doubled the lead, Rice charged forward and drove home a fine finish that was ultimately ruled out for offside against Kane.

“To be honest with you, going back to the other night I was gutted,” he said.

Rice thought he had scored for England against Malta, only for his effort to be ruled out by VAR
Rice thought he had scored for England against Malta, only for his effort to be ruled out by VAR (John Walton/PA)

“When I picked the ball up and drove through and bent one into the far corner, I was buzzing because I don’t really score goals like that often.

“When it was chalked off I was gutted, but it was one of those where I didn’t want to get into something with the ref, get a silly yellow card. The game was won at 2-0 so it is one of those you have to take on the chin.

“Hopefully I can score one of those again, maybe tomorrow night, so we will have to wait and see.”

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has landed a Football Association charge for his stinging criticism of VAR following the recent Premier League defeat at Newcastle – labelling the decision to allow Anthony Gordon’s winning goal to stand as both “embarrassing” and a “disgrace”.

“It is one of those things, you are going to get decisions that go your way and those that don’t go your way,” Rice said on VAR.

“At the minute it is a bit up in the air because some decisions being made are the wrong decisions, some are right, but we are just there to play football and it is down to the authorities to decide – the people at Stockley Park and the referees.”