England lose top spot as Roy Hodgson gamble backfires

England 0 Slovakia 0: England manager Roy Hodgson took a major gamble by making six changes for a final group game against Slovakia and was made to sweat as his team dominated without reward in a goalless draw that sends them through to the last 16 — but only in second place and with questions to answer.

For a squad that boasts two of the top three goalscorers in the Premier League last season as well as prodigious attacking talent such as Dele Alli and Daniel Sturridge, you have to wonder why England find it so difficult to score.

This result, which allowed Wales to snatch top spot in Group B, will no doubt see Hodgson criticised; but when you’ve just watched your team totally dominate for 90 minutes, have 30 shots on goal, and huge swathes of possession, then the frustration is not so much about what people say but why on earth the ball won’t go in the net.

That’s something England will need to put right in the last 16 when they will face the runners-up in Group F, currently Iceland but with Portugal and Hungary (who play each other in Lyon on Wednesday) also a possibility.

Hodgson opted to make six changes and rest key players including captain Wayne Rooney. In came right-back Nathaniel Clyne, left-back Ryan Bertrand, midfielders Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere, as well as strikers Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy with Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Alli, Raheem Sterling, and Harry Kane also left out.

England looked pretty cohesive in a first half which they dominated, managing 10 shots on goal.

Vardy was denied by a fine save from goalkeeper Matus Kozacik when clean through after 16 minutes,; Adam Lallana produced a promising shot after a flowing move only to see Kozacik somehow keep it out.

The Slovakian hero was at it again after half time, deflecting Clyne’s shot for a corner after the Liverpool full-back had been sweetly set free by clubmate Sturridge.

Chris Smalling almost gifted Slovakia an opportunity when he inexplicably chested down a cross rather than clear it, leaving Joe Hart scrambling to keep it out.

The frustration was enough for Hodgson to take off Arsenal midfielder Wilshere, who had a disappointing night and who didn’t look match fit, in favour of Rooney after 56 minutes.

Alli soon followed, for Lallana, and he made an instant impact with an effort cleared of the line by Martin Skrtel.

England’s domination was almost total by this stage, but in truth they never really looked like breaking through against a resolute Slovakian team who can now be confident of reaching the last 16 themselves as one of four lucky third-placed teams.

ENGLAND:

Hart 6; Clyne 7, Cahill 6, Smalling 6, Bertrand 6; Henderson 7, Dier 7, Wilshere 5 (Rooney 56; 6); Lallana 6 (Alli 60; 7), Vardy 6, Sturridge 7 (Kane 75; 6)

SLOVAKIA:

Kozacik 9; Hubocan 6, Durica 7, Skrtel 7, Pakarik 7; Hamsik 7, Pecovsky 5 (Gyomber 65; 6), Kucka 5; Weiss 6 (Skriniar 77; 6), Mak 6; Duda 5 (Svento 57; 6)

Referee:

Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)

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