England 2 Slovakia 1 “Rashford Rouses England”

So England came good in the end but not without a fright. Slovakia made the most of England’s sloppiness in the second minute of this entertaining contest to take an early lead and then gave England a lesson in ball retention for the next half an hour. 

Yet England eventually regrouped and slowly came back into the match, largely through Marcus Rashford’s youthful enthusiasm and directness, as well as promptings from Dele Alli and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. 

However, their equaliser had an element of good fortune about it, Rashford’s low mishit corner being turned in at the near post off the shin of Eric Dier. 

That seemed to release the shackles of a nervous and disjointed England side, further aided by Gareth Southgate’s sensible decision to swap his wide men and return Rashford to the left flank where he plies his trade for Manchester United. Why managers decide to pick players out of position, especially in international matches is a source of continuing bemusement. How can they possibly be expected to perform to their best under such circumstances? 

In the second half England continued where they left off at the end of the first, in an attacking vein, with Alli and Rashford looking the most likely to unpick the resolute Slovakian defence. So it proved, as on the hour Rashford  created some space for himself and fired low across goal from 25 yards into the far corner of the net. Payback time for the 19 year old, making full amends for his error in conceding possession in the opening moments of the match which directly led to Slovakia’s goal. So, 2-1 with half an hour to go and that was effectively that.  

England could have extended their lead but were not able to quite find the final ball and whilst Slovakia did create some half chances, one of which was beaten away at his near post by Joe Hart after a wonderful length of the pitch move by the Slovakian men in blue, they visibly tired. 

As paper aeroplane’s were being launched from the upper tiers of the now rapidly emptying stadium, and the clock ticked down, it seemed more likely that England would add to their score rather than there be a Slovakian equaliser. 

This English victory was an important one for Southgate and his men, not only taking them a step closer to World Cup qualification but perhaps more importantly showing and proving to themselves that they can win from behind, at least showing some character and determination to do so which can only be beneficial in the longer term. 

This was a proper match for once in a largely forgettable qualifying campaign. Slovakia are a decent side and England had to work hard but they came through, rather comfortably too in the end after something of a calamitous start. 

Southgate will inevitably take some positives away from this victory as he most definitely should, but questions remain as to the quality of this England group, which probably will not really be answered until next summer in Russia. On this showing, England are unlikely to have the world’s finest quaking in their boots and spending hours in detailed analysis viewing this latest performance.

The defence always looks a little pedestrian and vulnerable to any attacking side worth their sort, who they are likely to meet in the final stages of tournament football; the holding midfield pair of Dier and Jordan Henderson are good Premier League footballers but are lacking a little in the creativity department whilst  the front four show much promise but which cannot be fulfilled overnight. However, they are likely to improve the more that they play together and whilst they are worth persevering with, England do not possess any, what might be termed, ‘world class’ players in their ranks. It is players of a slightly higher calibre who are really needed to elevate a good team into one which might challenge for honours on the world stage. 

After the success of the younger England age groups in tournament football over the summer, maybe the future really is in the youth of this country. Rashford certainly proved that tonight. 

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