England can secure their place at the 2018 World Cup with victory at home to Slovenia on Thursday (19:45 BST, live on ITV).
England have progressed unbeaten through the qualification campaign, picking up six wins and two draws to top Group F with 20 points, five clear of Slovakia in second. Two points from Thursday’s match and their trip to Lithuania next week would get them to Russia 2018.
It would take a pair of disastrous results for England to miss out, particularly as next week’s opponents Lithuania have picked up just five points to date and have conceded an average of over two goals per match. But Gareth Southgate will nevertheless be keen to confirm England’s World Cup place in front of their own fans at Wembley on Thursday.
Southgate has done a solid job of stewarding his side through qualification since replacing Sam Allardyce after the first fixture but the quality of performances and results in friendly matches against more established powers has been varied. England failed to make it out of their group at the last World Cup and it is at the tournament itself that Southgate’s relative inexperience is more likely to become evident.
He has, though, been keen to take on advice from unexpected quarters in a bid to improve squad morale and togetherness and at least has a tactical template to work with given that a number of his squad play for three teams who have relatively similar style of play: Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
It is the last-mentioned of those teams and particularly the work of their coach Mauricio Pochettino and his staff that Southgate has been keen to highlight in the build up to Thursday’s match. Spurs have a high-octane approach that requires excellent fitness from their players, and Southgate has noted the difference in the conditioning of their England contingent.
Kane comes into the international break in superb form, with seven goals in his last three matches
He particularly hailed the effect that training ground work has had on Harry Kane, who is again likely to lead the line for England this week. Kane has scored over 2o league goals in each of his three seasons under Pochettino’s command (including 29 last season) and comes into the international break in superb form on the back of seven goals in his last three matches. Goals are now coming for England too: five in his last four appearances.
Building an attacking framework around Kane that includes the complementary movements from others that help him fashion shooting opportunities at Spurs should be one of Southgate’s priorities once these final qualifying fixtures are out of the way. For now, he will have to hope that the individual quality of his forwards will yield victory on Thursday.
Slovenia also have aspirations of reaching the World Cup. While they are very unlikely to overhaul England at the top of the group, second place and the possible playoff that comes with it is still within reach. They are third in the group, tied with Scotland on 14 points and just one point behind Slovakia, the current occupants of second place.
Srecko Katenec has built a side who seek to keep things tight at the back and take advantage of any opportunities that come their way at the other end. They have conceded just four times to date and only twice since their 2-2 draw away to Lithuania in their opening fixture. A goalless draw in Ljubljana last October showed they are capable of holding England at bay.
Slovenia have two key players. Between the sticks there is the outstanding Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak: big and strong yet incredibly agile. Up front, Atalanta’s Josip Ilicic takes on the majority of the attacking burden. Slovenia have scored 10 goals during the qualification process and Ilicic has been directly involved in seven of them.
Slovenia are a solid team but one that England should have enough quality to overcome. It will probably be a low-scoring match of few chances and little genuine entertainment but will nevertheless serve to get England over the line and book them a place at next year’s World Cup.
Our Preview’s England vs. Slovenia Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on ‘England to win to nil’ @ best odds of evens with Bet365.
- Back Under 2.5 goals @ 10/11 with Betfred.
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