England’s players fell to their knees in anguish as bedlam broke out around them in Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy in the moment Poland secured a draw amid chaotic closing moments.
Gareth Southgate’s side had held firm with commendable calm and a measure of maturity as they defended Harry Kane’s superb goal that put them on the brink of a sixth successive victory in the qualifying campaign for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
And then it was snatched away in injury time as the great Poland striker Robert Lewandowski showed his class as a creator as well as a marksman by sending the perfect invitation for Damian Szymanski to head past England keeper Jordan Pickford.
Warsaw celebrated with a wall of sound which was repeated minutes later as Poland enjoyed what felt like a victory while England were in despair about what felt like a defeat.
And yet, in the final reckoning and when that pain has subsided, England’s point here is another valuable step on the road to Qatar. It is hard to see anything that could stop them reaching the World Cup.
There will be questions for Southgate as the goal came from poor defending, Kyle Walker needlessly diving in as danger mounted before Szymanski was able to rise about Luke Shaw.
And there will be frustration that so much possession and so many good positions in the second half came to nothing, with England unable to find the end product.
As Poland’s late surge gathered momentum, should Southgate have looked to his bench to calm down a rather frantic finale, perhaps with Jordan Henderson or sending on Trent Alexander-Arnold to bolster an increasingly vulnerable right flank?
This was, quite remarkably, the first time England have not used a substitute since the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany.
These are the downsides for Southgate to ponder – but the reality is that there was much to admire about England’s display.
Southgate will be pleased England’s players do not appear to be suffering any lingering hangover from the heartbreak of that Euro 2020 Final loss on penalties to Italy. They have picked up again well, with that fine 4-0 win in Hungary and the inevitable dispatch of 156th-ranked Andorra at Wembley.
This visit to Poland and a meeting with a team having their own serious designs on qualification was arguably the toughest assignment they will face and England were moments away from navigating it successfully.
For large parts, this was a responsible, disciplined England display that would have won praise had they won. Poland’s late equaliser altered that landscape but there was still plenty of credit to be taken.
England were playing in front of a hostile crowd in excess of 56,000, made up entirely of Poland fans .
They handled that well and also coped with Poland’s physical approach, personified by the man their fans regard as their warrior, Kamil Glik.
The centre-back wasted no time in giving Jack Grealish a piece of his mind when the England man thought he had been fouled by the hard man. He also went in the book with Harry Maguire after a fracas after the half-time whistle resulted in a crowd scene of jostling players.
England kept the lid on things to control large parts of the second half, albeit without delivering too many serious chances.
They only had Kane’s goal to defend, despite all this. It left them open to the late punch on the nose that Poland delivered and Southgate will be pained at another lead lost by England.
If there is another annoyance for Southgate, it did seem that they got caught between two stools in not knowing whether to try and finish Poland off or protect the lead. In the end they did neither and this has happened before.
When the dust settles, however, England will not regard this as a bad result in the circumstances and in this atmosphere. It could have been better but it could also have been worse.
Southgate looks to have an increasingly settled side but with other players of quality to still call on – the prospect of 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham finding his way into this side is a particularly mouth-watering one.
England are in a strong position to reach Qatar but will regard this as one that got away, made even more disappointing by the fact it escaped so late.
However, with Andorra away and Hungary at home in October followed by Albania at home and San Marino in November, the outlook is positive and promising.
Yes, England left Warsaw disappointment at the manner of this draw but the big prize of World Cup qualification remains firmly in their grasp.