England 1 Slovenia 0
Harry Kane fired England to next summer’s World Cup but his last-gasp winner cannot paper over the cracks after Gareth Southgate’s men limped to victory against limited Slovenia.
Dull, flat, and uneventful all aptly describe a Group F encounter that may secure World Cup qualification but leaves just as many questions as answers — an all too common theme in recent matches.
So underwhelming was this encounter that fans seemed more excited about paper planes landing on the pitch, with England offering precious little to shout about until captain Kane directed home to secure a stodgy 1-0 win in stoppage time.
The Three Lions may be able to book their flights for Russia but this listless display against the ranked 55th in the world only underlines the work that needs to be done to stop next summer ending up like the last World Cup or Euro 2016.
After a dreadful opening period, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, and Harry Kane had efforts in quick succession during a brief flash of second-half excitement — but there were also moments when Slovenia threatened to inflict a first qualifying defeat since October 2009.
Such a ponderous performance tested fans’ patience, but those that waited around finally had a moment to enjoy in stoppage time as Kane beat Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak from a fine Walker cross.
Southgate can now use Sunday’s trip to Lithuania as a chance to experiment — a match Dele Alli is available for again having served a one-match ban against Slovenia.
Sterling came in for Alli and quickly went about stretching the Slovenia defence, whose close attention John Stones claimed should have brought an early penalty.
Possession failed to translate into clear-cut chances, though, and England’s play soon deteriorated.
Slovakia took an early lead at Wembley last month when Rashford made a mistake in his own third and this time it was Sterling whose sloppiness put his side under pressure. Josip Ilicic ended up being threaded through, with Joe Hart appearing to catch him when sweeping up.
No penalty was given and there was another sigh of relief when Roman Bezjak failed to connect with a cross against a struggling England side, whose captain Kane took aim for distance in a hopeful attempt.
Unfortunately, half-time did not bring an injection of excitement and urgency and Slovenia had the first attempt of the second half through Bojan Jokic.
The visitors were not pulling up any trees but nor were the hosts offering any serious threat, with England taking until the 63rd minute to muster a serious second-half attempt.
A crucial, if unorthodox, block from captain Bostjan Cesar prevented Sterling from slotting home in the 65th minute, with Kane flashing a first-time strike just as fans began to get excited about something aside from aiming to reach the pitch with paper planes.
Walker saw a drive denied by Oblak as England pushed for a goal that arrived deep in stoppage time.
Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec could only laugh as Walker cut out Oblak’s throw and cross for Kane, whose shot had too much for the otherwise impressive goalkeeper at the death.
ENGLAND: Hart, Walker, Stones, Cahill, Bertrand, Henderson, Dier, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lingard 63), Sterling (Keane 85),Kane, Rashford.
SLOVENIA: Oblak, Struna, Mevlja, Cesar,Jokic, Rotman (Matavz 79), Ilicic, Krhin, Bezjak (Repas 72), Sporar (Birsa 55),Verbic.
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Germany).
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