England 3 Slovenia 1, match report: Roy Hodgson’s side retain 100 per cent win record in Euro 2016 qualifiers
England vs Slovenia, Euro 2016 qualifying – Wayne Rooney scores on his 100th international appearance before Danny Welbeck bags a brace in Euro 2016 qualifier
England3 – 1Slovenia
After the NFL this was NFL – Numbing. Flat. Laboured. For almost an hour.
Then, from nowhere, it fired into life. Until then it was not remotely the occasion that Wayne Rooney will have dreamt of to mark his 100th cap for England.
But in the end the relieved captain led his team to victory and also claimed a vital goal to take him level with Jimmy Greaves – on 44 – and joint-third in the all-time scoring charts. As Greaves would say, “it’s a funny old game”.
Before kick-off Rooney had been presented with a golden cap to mark his extraordinary achievement by Sir Bobby Charlton – who holds the scoring record of 49 which the striker will eventually surely beat – but then when this Euro 2016 qualifier unfolded it quickly descended into something far more base. It did not glitter; it was not gold.
Gridiron had been played at Wembley last weekend, with the Football Association quite literally chasing the dollar, and that had left its hefty mark as England became bogged down, rutted. Roy Hodgson’s team looked bereft of the invention they eventually showed to haul themselves away from the prospect of a shock defeat.
By that final whistle they had the goals and the win and the points – with Danny Welbeck scoring twice – to surely all but seal qualification for the tournament in France in two years time as they dominate Group E with 12 points from four matches. Even if this was far from perfect.
The churn from that recent American Football encounter at Wembley was evident on the pitch, despite the obvious repair job, with even the “NFL international series” markings still visible and both six-yard boxes dark with the imperfect turf and a blotch for a centre circle. It did not bode well.
The heavy rain that fell in London during the day had also not helped with the Slovenians, opponents who deserved not to be underestimated having also already defeated Switzerland in this qualification group, claiming the surface was “completely ruined”.
There was also some early retribution which may have had something to do with that uneven pitch.
After Adam Lallana had barrelled into a challenge he, not long after, found himself dumped to the ground by Ales Mertelj.
Not that there was an immediate edge. Maybe it was the comfort England had experienced so far in qualifying, maybe, more likely, it was the air of celebration around the Rooney landmark – but it all had the feel more of a friendly than a charged competitive fixture.
Slovenia sat deep. They looked to counter, aware also of the pace England had in Raheem Sterling and Welbeck but it was the visitors who were afforded the first opportunity – only for Andraz Kirm to loop a header straight into Joe Hart.
Undoubtedly the pitch was cutting up but, finally, there was a shard of fine play by England and it involved Nathaniel Clyne, on his debut, bursting forward from right-back to turn the ball back to Rooney who rolled it to Sterling. His shot was hooked wide.
But it was a start. At last. Even if it was not sustained. England had the ball but not much invention.
England were playing the midfield diamond and it meant they were very narrow – not ideal given the central areas of the pitch were the worst – but Jack Wilshere lifted the ball to Welbeck who chested down to Rooney.
Given a sight of goal his shot was crisp but it also sailed over.
The signs were not good; not good at all. England were getting mired and a quick look at the stats did not bode well either – this starting midfield quartet for Hodgson’s side had 63 appearances between them – but not a single international goal.
Suddenly there was a Slovenia break-out and a corner was won which was met by Miliovoje Novakovic, who easily lost Phil Jagielka, only to steer his header wide of the near post. But it meant in that opening half-hour Slovenia had fashioned the best half-chances – before Sterling finally ran clear down the wing, his cross was deflected and, this time, it was Welbeck heading wide.
The Arsenal striker then shot over, to Rooney’s frustration and, twice, Slovenia caused themselves problems with Jasmin Kurtic’s close-range back-pass almost catching out goalkeeper Samir Handanovic – it was England’s best effort on goal in the first-half – and then Branko Ilic heading an England corner too close to his own goal.
The frustration grew with Wilshere, in particular, cutting an unhappy figure as England continued to fail to find any fluidity, any coherent urgency.
Hodgson resisted the urge to make any changes but, surely, he could not have been happy with the tempo and the lack of creativity although there then was a bit of urgency has Rooney ran on, won a corner and met the kick only to drift his header across goal. It was a chance.
Sterling then injected a bit of speed and quality and earned another corner after his cross from a jinking run was cut out. Handanovic fisted it away.
Slovenian captain Bostjan Cesar – who had earlier escaped unnoticed by the referee having elbowed Lallana – did well to block Rooney as he twisted and turned on the penalty area’s edge looking for the space to shoot. Rooney was at it again, soon after, feinting to try and create room for a cross.
Jagielka headed straight at Handanovic. Was there finally more attacking intent? There had to be.
And then an England player did score. Unfortunately it was an own goal.
Slovenia gained a free-kick which was whipped in by Kurtic only for Jordan Henderson to beat Kevin Kampl to the ball – and steer his header over Hart and into the net.
It stung England into an immediate response with Rooney again showing intent as he slalomed into the area, beating challenges only to be tripped by Cesar.
The penalty was given by the Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca and, fortunately, Rooney found enough power to beat Handanovic, who dived full-length, got a hand on the ball but could not keep it out.