England 1-0 Slovenia: Mixed emotions as hosts qualify for the World Cup but raise concerns with poor performance

Gareth Southgate's side ensured they finished top of Group F despite a dismal display against the side positioned below the likes of Haiti and Bolivia in FIFA's rankings.

England 1-0 Slovenia: Mixed emotions as hosts qualify for the World Cup but raise concerns with poor performance
It was a frustrating night for England before a late Harry Kane winner (photo: Getty Images/Clive Rose)
England
1 0
Slovenia
England: Hart; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Bertrand; Henderson, Dier; Sterling (Keane 85), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lingard 63), Rashford; Kane
Slovenia: Oblak; Struna, Mevlja, Cesar, Jokic; Bezjak (Repas 72), Krhin, Rotman (Matavz 79), Verbic; Ilicic, Sporar (Birsa 55)
SCORE: 1-0 Kane 90+3

England stretched their unbeaten run of major tournament qualifiers to 38 matches but this recent performance against Slovenia only served to prove the work that needs to be undertaken by Gareth Southgate ahead of the World Cup next summer.

Lacklustre England flatter to deceive in disappointing first half

Despite realistically needing at least a point to keep their qualification hopes alive, Slovenia set up with a 4-4-2 formation but took to the Wembley turf with a curious tactic of sitting deep and looking to limit the damage they were expecting to be inflicted upon them.

Yet it was a familiar opening to the game for England as the hosts looked slow, lethargic and bereft of ideas. It was the visitors who carried the most threat in the opening quarter of the contest as they realised they had the potential to get something from the game. Josip Ilicic was unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty after Joe Hart grabbed his foot before Roman Bezjak could not make solid contact with a volley when presented the ball in an optimal position.

The best England could muster in the opening 25 minutes was a distant strike from captain Harry Kane that nestled neatly into the arms of Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak. The lack of quality in the early stages was a reflection of England's modern-day football and was arguably the reason behind such a sparse Wembley crowd.

However, the hosts gradually began to take more of a foothold in the game. Oblak was forced into a smart save from Jordan Henderson before Kyle Walker curled a free-kick over. Set-pieces were clearly proving a headache for Gareth Southgate as Marcus Rashford, Kane and right-back Walker all fluffed their lines from shooting positions. Not ideal considering a hard tackling Slovenia were happy to break up play with fouls all over the pitch.

Rashford did see another free-kick steered wide by Oblak as the half edged towards a close before Gary Cahill flicked the resulting corner over for the second time in the opening 45 minutes. The half-time whistle duly followed and England trudged off to silence at an eerily quiet Wembley.

 

 

Worst England performance of the last decade?

Slovenia returned to the pitch with confidence, pulling off intricate tricks and neat passing in the first few minutes. Their inspired play almost created an early chance as Ilicic picked out Bojan Jokic who headed the cross straight at Hart.

In contrast, England were consistently misplacing easy passes and causing concern despite gradually edging closer to World Cup qualification. The hosts' lack of composure was exemplified when Rashford underhit a chip over Oblak when released by Raheem Sterling on the counter-attack.

However, the home side should have opened the scoring midway through the second half. Substitute Jesse Lingard released Ryan Bertrand whose cross was deflected out to Sterling. With the goal gaping, the winger took aim but saw his effort expertly diverted wide by the outstretched leg of Bostjan Cesar.

Cesar was becoming increasingly important as England finally increased the tempo. The Slovenia captain made another excellent block from Sterling before Kane curled an effort inches wide as the favourites started to threaten.

Yet it did not take long for the intensity to drop again as Mexican waves and paper aeroplanes became more of an interest to spectators in what was beginning to be considered as one of England's worst performances in the last decade.

Kane spares England blushes...to an extent

Captain Kane had struggled to make an impact as shown by a weak scuffed effort late on. However, he managed to bundle England an undeserved goal deep into stoppage time. Walker bombed forward and picked out his former Tottenham Hotspur teammate who managed to squeeze the ball past Oblak.

Despite the performance, England secured World Cup qualification with a game to spare as they remain unbeaten in Group F. However, uninspiring performances are becoming a feature of English football and this latest showing was one of the worst in recent years.

Slovenia, ranked 55th in the World below the likes of Haiti and Bolivia, will be devastated to throw away a late goal but England fans will be sceptical again about their own chances in Russia next summer despite easing through qualification.

International Football