England closer to Euro qualification after arduous win vs. Slovenia
In the buildup to his 100th cap, Wayne Rooney expounded upon his desire to continue his England career and finally lift some silverware. He will almost certainly have the chance to pursue that elusive major championship in the wake of a 3-1 victory over Slovenia at Wembley.
England have plenty of work to do before Euro 2016 based on this evidence, though a bright final half-hour secured the points and gave Roy Hodgson something encouraging to take forward as this qualifying campaign continues.
The laborious fare in the first hour allowed organized and ultimately impotent Slovenia to take the lead through a Jordan Henderson own goal after 57 minutes. Rooney highlighted the reasons behind his century when he produced a sparkling run to win a penalty and subsequently restored parity from the spot moments later. Danny Welbeck completed the comeback by turning the remnants of Adam Lallana's good work inside the far post. Welbeck added a second after 72 minutes to guarantee England a fourth win in four Group E matches.
The gulf in class between England and its adversaries in this qualifying group will inevitably carry the Three Lions to France in two years, but their impact on that massive stage hinges on the continued development of their younger players and the consistent presence of their captain.
Rooney spent most of the first half trying to spur his side to fight through the well drilled opposition. Slovenia manager Srecko Katanec set out his side to frustrate with an orthodox 4-4-2 setup affording minimal room to operate between the lines. This discipline left England to flail around in its bid to conjure chances, though Jack Wilshere's curling ball over the top for Welbeck allowed Rooney to thrash over the bar.
Somehow, that effort proved about as close as either team got in the first half. Slovenia focused on its shape, while England relied on its overlapping fullbacks -- including the debutant Southampton fullback Nathaniel Clyne -- to join the play with the movement far too static through the central channel. The balance led to largely dire fare with the bumper crowd more than happy to hear the halftime whistle.
"I thought in the first half, we dominated, but it was a little bit sterile at times because we weren’t getting the penetration we were looking for," Hodgson said. "We weren’t creating the clear-cut chances we were looking for. However, you have to give the opponent some credit as well. They were disciplined and well organized and making life difficult for us."
The halftime team talk inspired more energy and impetus from England, but a piece of carelessness allowed Slovenia to take the lead just before the hour. Lallana conceded a cheap and needless foul along the left touchline. Andraz Kirm fizzed the resulting set piece and watched as Henderson managed to turn it into his own net to stake the visitors to a surprising lead.
"After scoring the first goal, we couldn’t hold on for 5-10 minutes," Katanec said through a translator. "If we had, the game would have gone differently."
It lasted mere seconds as Rooney marked his century with a sequence capturing the reasons why he accrued so many caps. He collected inside the Slovenia half and embarked upon a slicing, twisting run through the maze of blue shirts. His endeavor yielded a justified reward when Bostjan Cesar clattered into him from behind for a certain spot kick. Rooney stepped up and thumped the resulting spot kick through Samir Handanovic's right hand to collect his 44th goal in an England shirt.
“It was a fine piece of play from Jack Wilshere to set him up for it, but it was a really good run in the box," Hodgson said. "That put us right back in the game. The goal against the run of play looked a little bit harsh, but we got straight back in it."
From that point onwards, England grabbed firm control of the proceedings and relied on its improved incisiveness to claim the points.
Lallana atoned for his first-half misstep by doing most of the heavy lifting on the eventual winner. His work along the endline led to a driven cross and a deflection straight toward Handanovic. The Slovenian keeper kicked it away. His compatriots failed to finish the job and permitted Welbeck to scuff home inside the far post for England's second after 65 minutes.
Welbeck guaranteed another three points by completing England's best move of the match on 72 minutes. The entire buildup from the diagonal out to the left through the combination work to send him through represented what England can produce on twop form. The Arsenal striker rounded off the move with a neat one-two with Raheem Sterling and a tidy finish.
England could have bolstered the total even more in the late stages as the match stretched, but it proved unnecessary on the day. Their second-half revival made them good value for the points and provided a proper ending for Rooney's golden cap, but they will continue onward to play Scotland on Tuesday with the knowledge that further improvement is required to meet their captain's ultimate objectives.