England have played Slovenia five times and conceded five goals. So on average they concede a goal a game to a team 40 places below them in the FIFA world rankings. Wales are now the highest ranked British nation and the trend for England is to drop. The rankings provide a good form guide which means England should beat Slovenia in their World Cup qualifier at Wembley tonight and 3-1 is the potential correct score.
It seems to be the same old story with qualification. England breeze through their section and are suddenly contenders for the World Cup or European Championships. Sooner rather than later it all goes pear-shaped in the matches that matter most. Sadly we have seen it all before and Gareth Southgate does not have the nature to inspire the nation or its 11 best football players.
Every time there is a tournament imminent England fans are optimistic. From August to May England players look like world beaters and it all goes wrong in June. These days England are home from tournaments before the start of July and the business end of the tournaments that really count. It’s too simplistic to say England’s best players play too many matches. The core of the Belgium national team play in the Premier League and they are fifth in the world rankings. The demands of the league don’t seem to unduly affect Hazard, De Bruyne and friends.
There are many examples from past tournaments but in the current era you look at Harry Kane. He has been the top scorer in the Premier league for the last two seasons and is knocking in the goals again. At Euro 2016 he was hopeless and was struggling to get within the corner flag from free kicks just outside the box. Something happens when players like Kane play for England in major tournaments and it will happen again. Southgate is a civil servant and not enough players qualified for England are regulars for their clubs in the Premier League.
England have won four of the five meetings with Slovenia and drawn one, scoring 10 goals and conceding those five. Both teams have scored in three of those fixtures and there have been more than two goals in the same number of matches. The latest fixture was the reverse tie in World Cup qualifying which was a goalless draw in Slovenia. England win matches of this nature at Wembley and 3-1 is the most likely correct score as history suggests Slovenia will find the net.
Marcus Rashford and Kane are proven in the Premier League and this must be there time. Rashford had his first start for Manchester United in February 2016 but he is already an integral part of the United and England first team. He is still a teenager but can reach the top of the game and could well play for Barcelona or Real Madrid at some stage in his career. It’s about time a player of his calibre produced for England at the World Cup…but don’t hold your breath.
If England avoid defeat against Slovenia they are almost through to the finals in Russia next year. In eight group matches they have won six and drawn two, scoring 16 goals and conceding just 3. England have the best attacking and defensive record in the group but it’s a poor section and even Scotland can still qualify. The three points will inevitably be secured at Wembley but the result will not tell us much about how England will get on when the serious stuff begins.