England can maintain their perfect start to the Euro 2016 qualifiers when they host Slovenia at Wembley on Saturday (17:00 GMT, live on ITV1).
The Three Lions top Group E with nine points from three wins out of three matches. They have scored eight goals and conceded none in victories away to Switzerland and Estonia and at home to San Marino.
England began last month’s double header with a comfortable 5-0 win over San Marino at Wembley, but they struggled a little more in the second fixture, labouring to a 1-0 victory over Estonia in Tallinn. Roy Hodgson’s side dominated possession but were unable to create a regular stream of chances. Wayne Rooney’s (pictured) well-executed free-kick spared their blushes.
The strong start to the qualifying process has temporarily eased the pressure that was building on Hodgson following England’s limp group-stage exit from the World Cup. The football has often been far from scintillating, but he has at least shown a willingness to adapt his tactical approach in an attempt to draw the best out of his players.
Hodgson has recalled Stewart Downing to the squad after a two year absence and has also brought Ross Barkley and Theo Walcott back into the fold after injury. Saido Berahino has been called up for the first time following his good performances for the Under-21s and strong early-season form for West Bromwich Albion. Glen Johnson has been left out.
Injuries have ruled Daniel Sturridge (hamstring), Fabian Delph (shoulder), Michael Carrick (groin) and Phil Jones (shin) out of contention for both Saturday’s match and the friendly against Scotland on Tuesday. Andros Townsend (ankle) is a serious doubt for Saturday.
Slovenia are second in Group E, three points behind England, with the six points they gained from victories at home to Switzerland and away to Lithuania last month. Those wins came after a 1-0 defeat away to Estonia in their first match of the qualification process.
Srecko Katanec’s side were comfortably outshot (18 to 8 in total, 6 to 1 on target) by Switzerland but held off their hosts through a combination of stout defending and superb goalkeeping from Samir Handanovic. Milivoje Novakovic’s late penalty secured the three points and the striker then scored twice more in the win away to Lithuania three days later.
Katanec was reappointed in January 2013 following the dismissal of Slavisa Stojanovic. Slovenia qualified for Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup during his first stint as national team coach and he has a level record of eight wins and eight defeats since returning. He is seeking to qualify the nation for their first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup.
Slovenia have kept a clean sheet in seven of their eight victories under Katanec. Handanovic is an excellent goalkeeper, while the experienced centre-back pairing of Branko Ilic and Bostjan Cesar provide ample protection in front of him. They are, however, far from prolific in attack, with a continuing reliance on the goals of the 35-year-old Novakovic.
Fiorentina attacking midfielder Josip Ilicic refused to heed his call-up for Saturday’s fixture and the subsequent friendly against Colombia and has stated that he does not intend to turn out for the national team while Katanec is in charge.
England vs Slovenia Betting Tips
England and Slovenia have met twice before, with England emerging triumphant on both occasions. Goals from Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe took them to a 2-1 friendly win at Wembley back in 2009, while Defoe was again on the scoresheet in a 1-0 victory in Port Elizabeth, South Africa during the group stage of the 2010 World Cup.
England have not conceded in winning all four of their matches since this summer’s World Cup and will be confident of continuing their good form into this fixture. Their last competitive home defeat came back in 2007 and they have won 12 of the 15 subsequent fixtures.
Even with Sturridge sidelined, England should have enough firepower to overcome what is likely to be a determined rearguard action from their visitors. Slovenia did a good job of frustrating Switzerland last month and will attempt to do the same to England.
Slovenia do not, however, carry much of an offensive threat and one goal should be sufficient for England to come away with the three points.
- Back England to ‘win to nil’ @ 17/20 with BetVictor or Ladbrokes.
- Four of England’s last five matches have seen two or fewer goals, as, indeed, have Slovenia’s last eight. We expect to see another tight match on Saturday. Back under 2.5 goals in the ‘total goals’ market @ best odds of 3/4 with Ladbrokes.