SENT US VICTORIOUS IT WASN’T GLORIOUS
England survived an early scare to virtually guarantee their participation at next summer’s World Cup in Russia. Marcus Rashford inspired England in a nervy game that they eventually won, thanks to his second-half winner.
With Eric Dier serving his suspension against Malta, the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder returned to the line-up to face second-placed Slovakia. The Three Lions – who would go top by five points with a win – also bought in Marcus Rashford, a reward for his class second-half performance on Friday. Other than that, England were unchanged. For Slovakia, centre-back Norbert Gyömber made way for veteran Ján Ďurica.
England knew they could go second with defeat at Wembley. However, it looked like defeat could easily be on the cards when Slovakia took a shock, yet deserved, lead inside three minutes. A Phil Jones headed clearance let Marcus Rashford free to counter Slovakia. The Manchester United youngster stalled as midfielder Stanislav Lobotka approached him. Celta Vigo’s Lobotka played the ball to sole striker Adam Nemec, who in return looped the ball forward to meet the run of Lobotka. The twenty-two-year-old plucked the ball down well, and finished smartly past a dumbfounded Joe Hart. The Falcons celebrated their first ever goal at Wembley, and their first goal against England since 2003.
England tried to gain control, with Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Dele Alli testing both the Slovakian defence and, quite often, keeper Martin Dúbravka – a recent signing for Czech Republic’s Sparta Prague. England earned a corner in the thirty-seventh minute, and Marcus Rashford’s delivery looked a little short. As Eric Dier approached the ball, he stuck a leg out and swept it perfectly into the top corner. Not Slovakia’s two goal-line defenders, nor the goalkeeper could stop it. Dier celebrated his third England goal, and gave his country a deserved equaliser. Ryan Bertrand fired against the welcoming palms of Dúbravka as the home side look for the lead to take into the break. Rashford forced an excellent dive and save from Dúbravka, but England never found the net. At half-time, maybe deservedly, Slovakia were hanging on – level at 1-1.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Marcus Rashford and captain Jordan Henderson all produced shots early on, before Slovakia took some respite with their first chance since early in the first period. Róbert Mak’s run and cross was cut out by a sliding Gary Cahill. Napoli livewire Marek Hamšík – earning his ninety-ninth cap – crossed perfectly into striker Adam Nemec’s path. The striker chested down well and volleyed firmly at Hart. The West Ham United goalkeeper denied Nemec his tenth Slovakia goal, as he parried behind well. England regained their concentration, and Harry Kane avoided the challenge of two defenders as he made the by-line. The Tottenham striker’s cross was well deflected by the goalkeeper, and, although his perfect position deemed him favourite to score, Dele Alli could not read the ball in time, and the ball trickled out off his knee.
It was after an hour of play that England took the lead. Alli’s anticipation saw him win the ball back, and it ended up between the feet of an eagerly advancing Henderson. The Liverpool midfielder found Rashford ahead of him, who fired the ball precisely and powerfully just inside the far post and beyond the hopeless dives of Martins Škrtel and Dúbravka. The teenager wheeled away in celebration of his first competitive England goal. He will struggle to score a more important one in the coming months. An assist and a goal well and truly made up for his horrible error that led to Slovakia’s opening goal.
Marseille centre-back Tomáš Hubočan skewed a volley over, from a great position following a free-kick, as the Slovaks pushed for a late equaliser. Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling were brought on to steady a very tired England ship and, after three minutes of backs-to-the-wall defending, the whistle was a welcome sound for the home players. The Three Lions need just two more points from their final two qualifiers to guarantee their place in Russia. It ended, deservedly overall, England 2-1 Slovakia at Wembley.