England can take a big step towards qualifying for Russia 2018 with victory at home to Slovakia at Wembley on Monday (19:45 BST, live on ITV).
England sneaked a 1-0 victory courtesy of an injury-time winner from Adam Lallana when the two sides met right at the start of the qualifying process in what proved to be Sam Allardyce’s sole match as England head coach. Slovakia played out the final half hour with 10 men but despite a high shot count, England needed a goalkeeping error to get their winner.
Gareth Southgate took over shortly thereafter and has steered England to the unbeaten record of four wins and two draws in their subsequent six fixtures that has put them within touching distance of qualification. England top Group F, with a two-point cushion to Slovakia in second and six-point advantage over Scotland in third.
The latest three points came in Malta on Friday. England laboured during the first half only for Harry Kane to break the deadlock soon after the break before late goals from Ryan Bertrand, Danny Welbeck and a second for Kane added shine to the scoreline.
Victory on Monday would therefore give England a five-point lead over Slovakia with two matches to play and all but guarantee their qualification for next year’s World Cup in Russia. It is there that the true test of Southgate’s coaching qualities would be found.
Outside of major tournaments, international coaches get very little time to work with their squad and it is therefore important to take advantage of existing relationships and tactical understanding from club level. Southgate is fortunate in that he can count on a nucleus of players from three teams with a broadly similar approach in Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, and has been able to leverage that to his advantage.
It is a relationship between two Tottenham players that could be key if England are to get the goal or two they will need to see off Slovakia. Kane and Dele Alli scored 57 goals between them for their club last season and theirs is the sort of connection that a section of the team could be built around. Alli provided Kane with the assist for the opening goal on Friday, and Kane has now scored five times in his last three appearances for his country.
Elsewhere, there are relatively solid partnerships being built but at this point in time there is little to suggest that England will be capable of going further than the last eight for the first time since 1990 if they are to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Slovakia qualified for their first World Cup as an independent nation in 2010 but were unable to repeat the trick in 2014. They do, however, look well placed to at least secure a playoff tie to qualify for Russia 2018 after a strong campaign in Group F.
Jan Kozak’s side recovered from consecutive defeats to England and Slovenia in their first two matches of the qualification process to move up to second on the back of five consecutive wins, including a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Scotland and Friday’s 1-0 win over Slovenia in Trnava.
Slovakia dominated possession and the shot count in that triumph but had to wait until the 81st minute to score their winning goal thanks to their qualification top scorer Adam Nemec. The victory saw them establish a four-point gap to both their opponents and Scotland, and another three points away to England on Monday would see them jump to the top of the group.
The Slovakia squad features a good mix of youth and experience. Holdovers from the 2010 World Cup such as former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, midfield maestro Marek Hamsik and winger Vladimir Weiss are complemented by rising talents such as Inter Milan defender Milan Skriniar and promising midfielders Ondrej Duda and Stanislav Lobotka.
That all suggests that things will be far from easy for England on Monday, even though they have been the winning side in four of their previous five meetings with Slovakia. The sports betting sites make England significantly odds-on to prevail but it is likely to be a tightly contested affair, albeit England should emerge victorious.
Our Preview’s England v Slovakia Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on England to win in a game featuring under 2.5 goals @ 2/1 with Betfred.
- Back the time of first goal to be after the 28th minute @ 11/10 with Paddy Power.
Compare England v Slovakia Betting Odds from Top Bookies