SLOVENIANS STUMPED BY THE NEW AND OLD
England ended the season unbeaten for the first time in 24 years as Wayne Rooney’s last gasp winner equalled Gary Lineker’s goalscoring record. Two stunning goals from Jack Wilshere made up for some questionable defending as the Three Lions won their first ever match on Slovenian soil 3-2.
Raheem Sterling’s contractual difficulties have led to his rapid loss of form and yet more criticism has been thrown at the twenty year-old. Despite this, Roy Hodgson started the Liverpool winger on the left flank. He was handed an opportunity to open the scoring on three minutes. A lofted through-ball landed right beside him, but he failed to let the ball drop and his side-footed volley wobbled just over Samir Handanović’s crossbar.
As Wayne Rooney broke free a few minutes later, his low drilled shot was expertly tipped past the post by the Internazionale man. England’s flurry of early possession, corners, and openings, ended with nothing to show as Slovenia grew into the game on the half-hour mark. A few moments before the clock hit forty minutes, Slovenia took a surprise lead. The home side countered from a poor Phil Jones throw in, and thirty-six year old striker Milivoje Novaković found the ball at his feet. He passed to midfielder Josep Iličić. The Fiorentina man saw the run of the veteran striker and found picked out his run perfectly. Gary Cahill made a late, desperate run to cover the goal as Joe Hart approached the forward for the one-on-one situation. Novaković composedly rolled the ball passed Hart’s diving body and the ball rolled into the net. A momentary lapse in concentration and England were behind in Ljubljana.
Rather ironically, Hodgson’s acceptance for a win and a bad performance was being twisted on its head. Despite dominating, England was losing. The halftime scoreline was 1-0.
On fifty-five minutes, a defensive header from Mišo Brečko was controlled up field by Iličić, but his decision to pass back to the defender would prove very costly. As Sterling tucked in to gain the ball, substitute Adam Lallana made a run to the far post. Sterling played an inch perfect pass to his club teammate. Lallana cut back from goal to avoid the diving challenge of captain Bostjan Cesar. As the ball broke free, Cesar made a desperate attempt to clear the danger, but the ball fell at the feet of Arsenal man Jack Wilshere. From just outside the box, Wilshere powered the ball into the top corner. The powerful strike proved too powerful and well-placed for the keeper, and Hodgson’s men were level with a wonder goal. With just under twenty left, Andros Townsend found himself in the right back area. He passed forward intelligently to emergency full-back Jordan Henderson. The number four sent a through ball forward to Lallana, whose flicked helped the ball onto Jack Wilshere. Off balance and nineteen metres from goal, the goalscorer hit an audacious shot. Whipping inwards with great intent and power, the ball dipped just under the crossbar and even further into the corner, from further out. WIlshere wheeled away in celebration of a goal which Gary Lineker inc return described as one of the national side’s top ten best ever goals. A swift, speedy counter-attack, finished off in such style was sure to bring a smile to the manager’s face.
As England nervously held on to their narrow lead, Slovenia came out them once more. Kevin Kampl’s pass out wide to Jokić saw the winger curl in a cross. Unthreatened by the poor defending of Kieran Gibbs, Nejc Pečnik bulleted a header down to Joe Hart’s left. Slovenia looked to have stolen a draw with six minutes remaining. As Jack Wilshere successfully scrapped for possession for the umpteenth time, Henderson picked the ball up. His fast pass forward to Theo Walcott saw Jokić slide in with a desperate challenge. His tackle fell to no-man’s-land and Wayne Rooney – whose night had been glittered with close calls and missed chances – curled the ball low into the corner with his first touch to win the game 3-2. Handanović punched the air in disappointment, but for England it was yet another three points.