PERFECTION ACHIEVED WITH VILNIUS VICTORY
England completed their 100% winning qualification campaign with a routine yet gritty and tiring 3-0 win in the tiny LFF Stadium of Vilnius. England were almost certainly assured of a win in their first ever match in Lithuania as Roy Hodgson’s side went two up at the break.
Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Gary Cahill were three of five players called up that returned to their respected clubs ahead of the final qualifier in Lithuania. Only Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Harry Kane retained their place in the starting line-up from Friday’s victory over Lithuania’s Baltic rivals. Yet more players unsure of their places in Roy Hodgson’s team made the ‘first eleven’ as the final qualifier on England’s road to France began. Jack Butland claimed his second cap as he started in goal.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane cut inside on his right foot for the first chance of the match. His rifled effort was nestling into the bottom corner but was expertly parried wide by Lithuania’s only English-based player, Watford goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis. As Lallana won the ball in the middle of the park, and got it back from Barkley, the Everton man found Harry Kane. As has become a bit of a tradition of his, Kane fired in a rasping drive from the edge of the box on the right side. This tight-angled shot was just about beaten wide by the palms of Arlauskis. As Barkley found Kane’s feet shortly after, the forward swivelled to his left, turning his defender, before volleying meaningfully against the chest of the diving goalkeeper. For the third time early on, Arlauskis had denied Kane’s attempt to find the net.
As England asserted their dominance with a few periods of easy, patient passing, the next chance arrived. Harry Kane found the ball between his feet just outside the box, and he passed to Barkley. The midfielder shifted the ball in order to lose his marker, before unleashing a powerful strike. It took a huge deflection of defender Tomas Mikuckis before wrong footing Arlauskis and nestling into the corner of the net. A minute before the half hour mark, England led in their final qualifier. No ore than a couple of minutes later, Jonjo Shelvey won and then switched the ball into the path of full-back Gibbs. The Arsenal man wasted no time in launching the ball up to Jamie Vardy in order to kick-start a counter-attack. Vardy nicked the ball past the onrushing Mikuckis before speeding past him. The Leicester City forward beat Georgas Freidgeimas with his cross, but not Arlauskis, who collected the ball comfortably.
The next opening of the match was the first for the home side. As Lithuania’s Fiodor Černych carried the ball forward, striker Lukas Spalvis peeled away to the left of skipper Jagielka. Spalvis, a player of AaB in Denmark, took the ball away from Phil Jones, before unleashing a shot from a difficult angle. The ball scraped off of Jones’ knee and flew on target. Jack Butland, the Stoke City keeper, dived to his left to acrobatically tap the ball out for a corner. Nothing came of Lithuania’s only corner of the night, and England regrouped and began another passing game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found space outside the box, and he passed to Harry Kane on the right. Kane’s first move was to pass to Lallana, whom he got the ball back from after he had entered the area. The big forward’s strike crashed off the post, before hitting the goalkeeper’s head and travelling over the line. Harry Kane celebrated what he thought was his fourth goal in six caps, but it went down as an Arlauskis own-goal. The Three Lions had a two-goal cushion after thirty-five minutes. One of Lithuania’s better players is VfL Bochum’s Arvydas Novikovas. The former Hearts and St Johnstone player found his own round as he ran with the ball across into the centre of the pitch, but his left footed effort dragged a few metres wide. England’s final chance of the half came when Kane won the ball and Gibbs picked it up. He beat a few men before freeing Adam Lallana. Lallana’s pass to Barkley was copied as Barkley found Shelvey. But Shelvey’s powerful effort was smothered by the floor-bound Giedrius Arlauskis.
Half number two’s first chance came on fifty-five minutes. Oxlade-Chamberlain picked the ball up on the right-wing and then carried it to the by-line. His low fizzed cross was met sweetly on the volley by Kane, but Arlauskis made a great stop from point-blank range. Kane’s follow up effort was rather more of a scuff, and was blocked well by Tomas Mikuckis. The resulting corner proved to be yet another brilliant set-piece by Lallana on the night. Ross Barkley rose to head the ball low into the corner, but Arlauskis was alert to add another to his string of smart saves. After Liverpool’s Danny Ings had come on to replace Harry Kane for his international debut, another five minute England attack was wasted, when Oxlade-Chamberlain, off balance, slid a shot through the gap of defenders. Arlauskis snatched the ball off of the artificial turf with ease. Two minutes after this, Kyle Walker grabbed his first assist for England with a disguised pass to the unmarked Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Arsenal midfielder smashed the ball into the top corner for England’s third and his fifth goal for his country. As England kept the pressure on, substitute Alli’s slipped ball to Ings, saw the former Burnley man drive a low effort goal-wards. Arlauskis dived to his right to tap the ball away.
England kept dominating the possession, without anymore clear-cut chances. The full-time whistle blew for the match and for England’s qualifying campaign. The knowledge that Roy Hodgson’s side would be in France next summer arrived before that of any other team barring the hosts, but after ten games, England have won all ten, scoring thirty-one goals, and conceding just three [all to Slovenia]. No team in Europe won all their games, in fact England were the only side unbeaten throughout qualification. No team scored as many goals as England, and only Romania conceded fewer goals: 2. England’s campaign was rounded off with a 3-0 win in Lithuania.