England sealed their place at the 2018 World Cup with victory over Slovenia on Thursday and can be expected to end the qualification campaign with another win when they travel to Vilnius to take on Lithuania on Sunday (17:00 BST, live on ITV).
It was a pretty uninspiring performance against Slovenia, but an injury-time goal from Harry Kane nevertheless secured the win that gave England an unassailable six-point lead at the top of Group F with one match to play. A spot at Russia 2018 is now theirs.
It was not a display that provided much hope that England will be well-equipped to go far next year. They struggled to progress the ball forward against Slovenia’s well-organised defensive stance and there was a clear lack of direction and creativity in their play. The goal came primarily because results elsewhere prompted Slovenia to push for a late winner.
Gareth Southgate afterwards admitted that his side “have to get better,” but otherwise struck a relatively positive tone at the end of a night on which England qualified for a sixth consecutive World Cup. He emphasised the potential for improvement and was also quick to point out that Slovenia are a canny side who have conceded very few goals during the qualifiers.
Sunday’s opponents are likely to prove easier prey. Lithuania are yet to qualify for a European Championship or World Cup since regaining their independence in 1990. They came closest in the mid-nineties but have struggled since. A solid start to this campaign was followed by five consecutive defeats that had left them out of the running well before their 1-1 draw away to bottom side Malta on Thursday.
In six internationals this calendar year, Lithuania have scored twice and conceded 15 in drawing one and losing five.
There are few famous faces within the Lithuania squad. The majority ply their trade in various Eastern European leagues. Scottish fans will be aware of the Hibernian pair of Vykintas Slivka and Deivydas Matulevicius, while Arvydas Novikovas and Darvydas Sernas also had spells north of the border, albeit very briefly in Sernas’ case, but that’s about it.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]There are few famous faces within the Lithuania squad[/quote]
England have unsurprisingly won all three of the previous meetings between the sides, including a 2-0 victory when they met at Wembley in March. Lithuania defended pretty well but goals in either half from Jermain Defoe and Jamie Vardy were enough for a relatively comfortable win, albeit one that left Southgate keen to see a bit more dynamism in his side’s ball movement.
That seemed to have been at least partly addressed when England scored two or more goals in each of their three subsequent matches against stronger opposition, only for Thursday’s match to show that there is still plenty of work to be done as they build towards next year’s World Cup.
If they avoid defeat on Sunday, England will have progressed through four consecutive qualifying campaigns for major international tournaments without losing a single match. But their record at the tournaments themselves is far less impressive, and their approach needs to be much more clearly defined if they are to change that in Russia next summer.
It will therefore be interesting to see how Southgate tackles Sunday’s match. It could be an opportunity to take a look at some new faces or try out a new game-plan. But he may simply want to put out his first-choice XI and give them the chance to build some confidence by thrashing a weaker opponent. Whichever way, England should be expected to win.
That is clearly reflected in the bookies’ odds and an Asian Handicap is therefore the only way to get decent odds for this match. England have recorded four wins by two or more goals during the qualification process, including at Wembley in the reverse fixture, while Lithuania have lost five of their last seven internationals by the same margin. So an England win by a couple of goals or more seems the best way to go.
Our Preview’s Lithuania vs. England Betting Tips Verdict
- Back England -1.5 on an Asian Handicap @ 119/100 with Bet365.
- Bet On England to score in both halves @ 11/10 with William Hill.
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