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England v Slovenia

  • World Cup Qualifying Group F, 11th October 2016, Stadion Stozice, Ljublijana

  • Gareth Southgate's extended job interview got off to a good but unspectacular start on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Malta. To be fair to him, there was not much else he could have done in prepping an England team lacking in confidence and leadership. They did afterall have 80% possession and have 20 shots on goal. If it wasn't for the Surrey-born Maltese goalkeeper, Andrew Hogg, it could have been a lot more.
    So on to Ljublijana and Slovenia, who on paper are the fourth ranked team in Group F (after England, Scotland and Slovakia). But England should be wary, Slovenia beat Slovakia at this stadium only on Saturday. Also, whilst memories are fresh, the England players will remember the last two encounters. In both matches during qualification for Euro 2016, Slovenia took an early lead and in the game at this stadium it was a Wayne Rooney goal four minutes from time which took the three points.
    As for Rooney this time, any heroics will have to be done from the bench. Gareth Southgate took the unusual steps of anouncing Rooney's benching at last night's press conference. Rooney showed impressive composure and professionalism to actually ask to go along and sit next to his interim manager as he broke the news of his demotion. After sections of the Wembley crowd booed him on Saturday it was even more impressive. Southgate has shaken off the quiet man tag with the loudest of calls. Big balls from both of them.
    Today's meeting between England and Slovenia will be the fifth meeting. England have won all of the four previous games, including the two games mentioned above, a friendly at Wembley in 2009 and a 2010 World Cup group match which was decided by a Jermain Defoe goal.
  •   Posted: 11th October 2016 6:35am

England v Malta

  • World Cup Qualifying Group F, 8th October 2016, Wembley Stadium.

  • The French have a phrase for it; We alluded to it in our last match preview: Plus ça change. The more things change the more they stay the same.
    It's hard not to be cynical, as an England fan. Things were pretty low after England's humiliating exit of Euro 2016 to Iceland. Now Sam Allardyce's departure has added to the disappointment off the field as well. At least he went with a 100% record. Sam's first (and only) team was so similar in composition and tactics to the one employed by Roy Hodgson in Euro 2016 that one wondered if any lessons had been learnt at all. In fairness to Sam, Slovakia were even more defensive minded then they had been in the final group game in Saint-Etienne and it took a last gasp Adam Lallana goal to break the deadlock. Something that Roy's team couldn't do. Three points are nothing to be sniffed at, especially away to probably the most difficult opponent England will face on the road to Russia 2018, but there was a feeling that we had seen this kind of stuff before. Nothing had really changed.
    Fast-forward to tomorrow's match and again there is a feeling that things are pretty much same-same. Granted, Gareth Southgate has had little time since Allardyce's departure last week to impose on this England team, and anyway, we doubt that would be the rubric that the FA would have given him in his four matches as interim manager. But here we are asking the same questions and getting the same answers. Wayne Rooney's position, or even if he should play at all, is still the major talking point. Should it be? Sam didn't help us getting any nearer to the answer when he said that he couldn't ask Rooney to play where he wanted him as he knew less about international football than his captain. Yes you could, Sam, it's called being a manager.
    Still, whatever the problems and challenges that lay ahead for the team and the future manager, one of them is not qualification for the 2018 World Cup. With all that is wrong with the England game it REALLY would be a new depth plumbed if England do not qualify from this group. It's not even much of a stretch to see the Three Lions once again qualify with a 100% record.
    First up is Malta who lost their opening qualifying game to Scotland 5-1. They finished last in their group qualifying for Euro 2016 with a meagre return of just three goals in ten matches. Tomorrow's game against England will only be the sixth match they have played in 2016 and only the second competitive one following the Scotland match. The last time Malta visited Wembley was a 5-0 drubbing in 1971. More of the same in that regard would not be unwelcome.
  •   Posted: 7th October 2016 12:51pm

England v Slovakia

  • Road to Russia starts on Sunday.

  • 76 days after playing a rather insipid draw against Slovakia in Saint-Etienne, England will kick-off their qualifiying campaign versus the same opponents in Trnava on Sunday. The opponents might be the same and in all probability the England team will be very similar, going by the squad which has been picked, but one crucial factor has changed: The Manager.
    Roy Hodgson's bold but ultimately doomed tactics of changing six players in their final group game of Euro 2016 provided the catalyst for England's eventual departure from the tournament at the hands of minnows Iceland. The England team that Hodgson picked to play Slovakia was good enough, and perhaps should have won the game but the tactic of resting so many players backfired as England lost all the momentum they had built up in the tournament so far. England had impressed in the first game against Russia despite a last minute leveller which the Russians barely deserved from practically their first shot on target. England also impressed in the second half against Wales. Turning the game and a 0-1 deficit around with their own last minute winner. They had momentum. They had a chance to win the group. They had a chance to be in the right side of the draw in the knock-out stages, a side which didn't contain four other World Cup winners. But the impetus had been erroded and they were well beaten by the weakest team in the tournament. Imagine if they had come up against one of those big guns? Iceland shipped five goals to France in the next round.

    So, step forward Sam Allardyce. The best Englishman for the job? Certainly. The best manager for the job? There were several others on the FA's shortlist with a lot more experience, Jurgen Klinsmann for example who has international experience managing Germany, the United States (currently) and Champion's League experience with Bayern Munich. Not something that Allardyce can put on his CV. His best result as a manager to-date, is a sixth placed Premier League finish with Bolton in 2004-05 and a venture into the old UEFA cup the following season. Bolton were eliminated at the first knock-out stage. Maybe the FA are looking for continuity, after all!
    Flippancy aside, Allardyce should have got the England job back in 2006 when Sven-Goran Eriksson stepped down. He was on the FA's shortlist but they eventually plumped for Steve McClaren who had been Eriksson's assistant. Ten years later Big Sam now has the job he has craved for so long and ahead of him is a relatively easy qualification road to the World Cup in Russia. The likes of Malta, Lithuania, Slovenia & Scotland (with all due respect) shouldn't provide too many sleepless nights. The toughest task is, perhaps fortunately the first, an away trip to Slovakia. The last meeting between the two teams on Slovakian soil, England came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to goals from David Beckham and Michael Owen. But then, that was 14 years ago. So much has changed since then, and yet so much has stayed the same.
  •   Posted: 2nd September 2016 8:15am

England Out.

  • Outplayed by Iceland.

  • England are out of a major tournament once again. Well played Iceland. You were magnificent.

    We'll be back in September for some World Cup qualifiers. If anyone can be bothered.


  •   Posted: 27th June 2016 10:02pm

England v Iceland Preview

  • Winners take on France in the quarter finals

  • England and Iceland meet in the last of the round of sixteen matches for this years Euro 2016 later this evening. The winners will face France at the Stade de France on Sunday 3rd July.
    Iceland, the lowest ranked of the sixteen teams to qualify from their groups, have been the surprise package of Euro 2016. In their group games they drew with Portugal and Hungary and scored that last minute winner against Austria that went viral thanks to Icelandic commentator Gudmundur Benediktsson's screams of joy. If you haven't seen/heard it yet, its here. However, this shouldn't be that surprising as they qualified for France from a difficult group including Czech Republic, Turkey and the Netherlands (who they beat home and away) to revel in their first ever major tournament.
    England and Iceland have met twice, the first was in 1982; a B Team match upgraded to a full international ended 1-1, and a Euro 2004 warm-up match in which England won 6-1.
    As England have not won a knock-out match at a major tournament since beating Ecuador in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup, Roy Hodgson and his men will be hoping for something nearer the latter, rather than the former.
  •   Posted: 27th June 2016 7:44am