England required just two points from their last two games in Group F, against Slovenia and Lithuania, to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next summer. In their penultimate fixture, the visitors made it hard work for their opponents and it took England until the 94th minute to seal qualification with captain Harry Kane turning in from a Kyle Walker cross.
The result means that England are now unbeaten in their last 20 World Cup qualifiers, stretching back to 2009, and top the group heading into the final group game in Lithuania on Sunday evening. Gareth Southgate may look at this game as a means of experimenting, with his English side far from convincing in this 1-0 victory. Plenty of work will need to be put in ahead of the finals in Russia next summer.
England Qualify for Russia 2018
The home side came into the game on the back of two wins in a row, including a flattering 4-0 win at Malta and a 2-1 home victory over Slovakia. In a dire first half of football, England failed to break down a resilient Slovenian back line and Jordan Henderson’s strike was saved well by Jan Oblak in goal for the visitors.
The away side had not come to Wembley to settle for a point, however, and enjoyed a period of pressure early in the first half, forcing Joe Hart into action for the home side. Questions were raised prior to the game as to whether the on-loan West Ham man should start the game between the sticks, with Stoke City’s Jack Butland pushing for a start, but the former Manchester City man repaid his manager’s faith with a vital save near the end to deny the away side taking a late lead at Wembley.
Before that, England twice came close to breaking the deadlock in the second half through Rashford and Sterling and with just two minutes of normal time remaining, captain Harry Kane scored his eleventh goal in 22 England internationals to send the home side to the World Cup in front of a rather empty Wembley Stadium. With 67% possession and 17 shots on goal, England had to dig deep to find the winner and this perseverance will bode well in the future for this young, English side.
Tough Choices Ahead
With just 60,000 fans turning out for the game, the atmosphere went through stages of silence to toxic, with the home fans clearly showing their discontent of the way that England were playing. By the time Kane had converted late on, many of the fans had already made their way to the tube station in the hope of avoiding the full-time rush.
Are the fans simply tired of watching this lacklustre side take until the closing moments to see a game off or does Southgate have himself to blame with the team he put out there? Despite not enjoying the greatest of starts at new club Liverpool, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain once again started, with his replacement, Jesse Lingard, sitting on the bench despite not making a single Premier League start for Manchester United this season. Sitting alongside Lingard was Daniel Sturridge, another regular on the Liverpool bench and Southgate himself admitted that some of the players in the squad “did not even deserve to be there”.
With the likes of Sturridge, Lingard and Chamberlain still making the England squad despite their woeful lack of form, is it any real surprise that the likes of Wilfred Zaha and Tammy Abraham have opted to play for the Ivory Coast? Friendlies against Germany and Brazil in November will give this young side a real test and before any of the players, fans or coaches can even dream of success at Russia next summer, there is much work to be done for the Three Lions.
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