England’s match with Slovakia in Euro 2016 was the fixture when things really went pear shaped as Roy Hodgson decided to make six changes to a winning team. Sam Allardyce will be hoping for a more positive experience when the new England manager takes his team to play the same nation away from home at the start of qualifying for the next World. Cup. It’s an easy group but after winning all 10 qualifiers for the Euros and stinking the place out won’t be informative.
It will be interesting to see who takes the corners for England. Joe Hart plays but it would have a tough call for Big Sam if Frazer Forster was not injured. One player that did not make the squad is Jack Wilshere who is now trying to find a holiday home in Bournemouth. Ross Barkley didn’t make the squad either and that could be a wake up call for a player that is currently not as good as the hype suggests. Hart made the squad despite his two cock-ups at the Euros and being the 12th choice keeper at Manchester City before getting a loan deal with Torino in Serie A.
After the debacle of the European Championship finals in France England are 13th in the FIFA rankings, two places below Wales. Slovakia are at 24 in the current standings so in theory with home advantage they should be competitive against England. Belgium are the best placed European team at number 2, four places above Portugal who won Euro 2016 which suggests a flaw in the process. Brazil are 9th in the standings but reached the semi-finals of their World Cup in 2014.
England drew 0-0 with Slovakia in their final group match which meant they finished second in the group and faced a potentially harder route to the final. As it transpired Iceland caused a shock and England were faced with an easy match in the round of the last 16! What followed was the most inept performance from an England team matched only by the manager who skulked off and seemed put out to face questions about the embarressment. At his Press conference Hodgson said: “I don’t know what I’m doing here”. Very apt!
England should have beaten Slovakia but we didn’t and the squad and manager faced the consequences. The whole campaign was a shambles and summed up by Wayne Rooney deciding to take the corners even though the manager had asked Harry Kane to do the job. Its common for the new boss to start with a good result so Allardyce’s England can get their World Cup campaign of to a winning start in a fixture with less than two goals and both teams not scoring.
In the meeting in France this summer England had more than 60% of the possession, produced 16 shots compared to the four from Slovakia and won 11 corners while their opponents did not have one. In every key statistical error England were the superior team but came off the pitch following a deflating draw. However, qualification was achieved in second place but scoring three goals in as many group matches hardly inspired any confidence. England were a disgrace in the defeat to Iceland.
Slovakia is a relatively new country that was formed when Czechoslovakia spilt up to form the Czech Republic and the Slovakia. It became an independent state in 1993 after the peaceful break up of Czechoslovakia. Slovakia reached the round of the last 16 at Euro 2016 and the same stage in the 2010 World Cup but have not qualified for any other tournament. Their strong defence stood firm against England but they are a counter-attacking team that lacks tactical flexibility. Sounds like England under Hodgson. Big Sam should at least bring a bit more personality to the party.
England generally cruise through the group and then make a pig’s ear of tournaments. Maybe this time (more than any other time: See 1982 England World Cup squad official song) they struggle to qualify from a poor group and then win the 2018 World Cup! In that case they would be Putin every other nation in their place but don’t hold your breath. England will win this group and maybe just once they will bring some joy to the nation by doing well in Russia.
On FIFA ratings Slovakia away is the toughest match of the qualifying campaign. Allardyce would take a draw but England can return from Central Europe with all three points after a narrow win.