DOMINANCE IRRELEVANT AS ENGLAND QUALIFY SECOND
England qualified second in their group behind Wales after a dull 0-0 draw with third-place Slovakia. Roy Hodgson’s controversial decision to make six changes to the side that beat Wales saw some new faces impress more than others. The Three Lions failed to break down another stubborn defence-minded side, just like with their opening draw with bottom-of-the-group Russia.
Ryan Bertrand, Nathaniel Clyne, Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere all came in as the likes of Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney were rested.
Starting striker Jamie Vardy was handed an early chance by Nathaniel Clyne. The right-back whipped in a mean ball which was glanced on well by Vardy. The Leicester City striker’s header span just over Matúš Kozáčik’s crossbar. Next came a bizarre series oh knocked on headers that lead to a Daniel Sturridge chance close in. The Liverpool forward may have found the net had Hertha BSC’s Peter Pekarík not come hurtling in from right-back to make a stunning block. Jordan Henderson created England’s next reasonable opportunity, and it was a huge one. His long looping pass found the run of Vardy. The twenty-nine year-old always had the beating of Martin Škrtel for speed, but the pace at which he was running made his scuffed finish less lethal, thus Kozáčik was able to save well. But perhaps the first half’s best chance, like against Russia, fell to Adam Lallana. Some good play between Clyne and Henderson on the right wing left Clyne able to pullback for Lallana. The midfielder drilled a side-footed shot on target, but again a strong hand from the goalkeeper denied England their first Euro 2016 first-half goal. A sweetly struck Henderson volley, blocked by the head of Ján Ďurica concluded the action as the half finished at 0-0.
Early on in second half, an utterly horrible mix up at the back for Roy Hodgson’s team almost lead to Slovakia taking an utterly undeserved lead. A cross from the left wing was stomached down by Chris Smalling for Joe Hart to gather. But Smalling got so little on the ball that Róbert Mak came steaming in and was unlucky not to score with an improvised flick. Nathaniel Clyne’s tight-angle effort was again superbly stopped by Kozáčik soon after the defensive scare. Vladimír Weiss, formerly of Manchester City had the next chance, as his deflected strike was just about gathered by Hart following a fast Slovakian counter. Dele Alli, Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane came on for England. And it was not five minutes before Alli was handed a goalscoring opportunity. Henderson cross dragged all Slovakian players out wide which left the oncoming Alli completely unmarked. His volley was nestling in the bottom corner past Kozáčik, but Martin Škrtel had other ideas as he clipped the ball over the bar from practically on the goal line.
Daniel Sturridge was next to try and seize the moment for England. But he produced a carbon-copy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s air-strike against Iceland as he failed to even make contact from Eric Dier’s superb long ball. Wayne Rooney and Dier both had long range strikes blocked in a congested box, before Harry Kane fluffed a seemingly gifted header from Henderson’s cross. Understandably Slovakia wasted England’s precious time late on. It ended 0-0 frustratingly for England. Wale’s emphatic 3-0 win over Russia takes them through first. Its second place for England, who learn their last-16 opponents on Wednesday.