England 1-0 Slovenia: Talking points as Gareth Southgate's side seal World Cup qualification

5 October 2017, 22:47

From Harry Kane's heroics to Gareth Southgate's work to do before the World Cup, we pick out the talking points from England's win over Slovenia.

The hosts had looked like they would be held to a frustrating goalless draw at Wembley on Thursday night. With Scotland beating 10-man Slovakia in Glasgow, that would still have been enough to qualify, but Kane's last-gasp goal at least gave the fans in attendance something to celebrate after a lacklustre England performance.

Here are the key issues from the game...

England get the job done

England have done it - they've qualified for the World Cup. And yet celebrations were muted on Thursday night, after Kane's 94th-minute winner secured a wholly uninspiring 1-0 win over Slovenia to confirm England's place at Russia 2018.

Boss Southgate, who talked down his own squad last week, can take satisfaction from completing his prime objective of booking a spot at next year's showpiece. But in this below-par performance - just as in last month's wins over Slovakia and Malta - his team failed to produce the exciting, commanding football which would convince the critics that his team can genuinely go far in Russia.

The humiliating defeat to Iceland at the European Championships last summer unquestionably damaged the relationship between this England team and the public. Another undefeated qualifying campaign hasn't healed those wounds. The banks of empty seats around Wembley reflected that.

The 62,000 turnout for this match was the lowest attendance for an England game since the Euro 2016 qualifier with San Marino in October 2014, the first home game after that World Cup campaign to forget in Brazil. Regardless of their low numbers, the displeasure was plainly audible as England laboured.

Come next summer, as the hype and anticipation ramps up, World Cup fever will no doubt grip the nation again. But right now, it feels like this England team still have a long way to go to complete their revival from that Euro 2016 low.

Kane the hero again

It just had to be him. After scoring 13 goals in September, man-of-the-moment Kane was the hero again in his first October fixture, turning in a superb Kyle Walker cross in injury-time to send England to the World Cup.

Kane was handed the captain's armband for this key qualifier and he is fast becoming the figurehead.

The 24-year-old had put the ball in the net in the first half with an accurate header from a corner, but saw his effort ruled out for a foul by Raheem Sterling. There was a scuffed effort wide from a good chance in the second half, too. But starved of opportunities throughout much of this contest, Kane was alert and determined when it mattered to beat his marker to the ball and turn it home for the decisive goal.

If he is fit and on form come next summer, he will give England hope.

Hart earns credit

At the other end of the pitch, Joe Hart will have been delighted to have contributed an impressive double save to the cause.

The goalkeeper, who said he had "failed" in his England career so far ahead of this game, is under mounting pressure from Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Tom Heaton and Fraser Forster for his No 1 jersey, and having the lowest saves-to-shots ratio in the Premier League so far this season hasn't helped the Man City stopper on loan at West Ham.

Hart's desire to make a mark almost backfired just 10 minutes in when he dived rashly at the feet of Josip Ilicic. A corner was wrongly awarded to Slovenia. Hart hadn't won the ball - but he had tumbled the attacker and was fortunate not to give away a penalty. A high throw moments later then put Walker in trouble and allowed Slovenia to attack again.

But a super stop at the feet of Tim Matavz, when he was through one-on-one on 82 minutes, was Hart at his best, and he was up quickly to block Aljaz Struna's follow-up before the referee blew for a foul.

Only Germany (two) have conceded fewer than England's three goals in World Cup qualifying. That's a record Hart can be proud of. But his position as England's undisputed No 1 remains under threat and he must rise to the challenge posed by the chasing pack.

Rashford impresses

Until Kane's late winner, Marcus Rashford had been England's most effective player. The Manchester United teenager had said in the build-up to this game that he sees himself as a striker doing a job out wide. Handed that role on the flank once more on Thursday, he once again set about making the most of his opportunity on the pitch.

In the early stages he gave right-back Struna problems aplenty. He beat him twice with pace before a cheeky nutmeg drew a free-kick in a dangerous position. Rashford is at his most dangerous, though, when he cuts inside and on half an hour a one-two with Sterling almost opened up the Slovenia defence.

However, despite his tricks and surges down the left, Rashford was unable to finish off his clear chance when it came his way. Bursting forward on the break with Sterling on 63 minutes, the 19-year-old opted for a scooped lob over Jan Oblak, which was comfortably cleared by covering defender Miha Mevlja. It looked like a costly error until Kane's late intervention.

Oxlade-Chamberlain struggles

Out-of-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a far less productive night. The winger was a surprise inclusion in Southgate's starting XI, considering he has been limited to just 73 minutes of underwhelming substitute action at Liverpool this season since his transfer from Arsenal.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, often saves his best performances for when he is wearing an England shirt - he has a one-in-five goal rate for his country - and Southgate clearly felt his pace and direct play was required. An early burst into the box backed up that theory.

It wasn't a sign of things to come, though. Oxlade-Chamberlain struggled to get on the ball and, when he was taken off after an ineffectual 62 minutes, his total of 30 touches was the second fewest of England outfielders after Kane.

His clearance downfield may have instigated the move which led to Rashford's ill-advised chip, but a 62-per-cent pass completion rate, 0 key passes and one successful dribble was not the return Southgate would have been hoping for.

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