Match Report: Lithuania vs England: 2018 World Cup Qualifying Group F Matchday Ten 9th October 2017
A first-half penalty from England skipper Harry Kane was enough to ensure Gareth Southgate’s men go to Russia on a winning note in their final Competitive Match before The World Cup last night.
The home Side, Lithuania, although putting up a stern defensive barrier at times, never really had any kind of grip on a Game that the visitors should have run away with on a cold night in The Baltics.
For all England’s chances, the definitive moment of the final Qualifier of a long campaign would come in the 27th minute when the returning Dele Alli was tripped in the area and Kane left to convert from the penalty spot for his 15th goal of the season for Club and Country.
From the start, Lithuania Boss Edgaras Jankauskas made six changes to his Side that drew 1-1 with Malta last week.
In goal, Ernestas Setkus replaced Emilis Zubas, in defence Valdemar Borovskij and Linas Klimavicius came in for Egidijus Vaitkunas and Tomas Mikuckis. Further up the field, Arturas Zulpa, Ovidijus Verbickas, and Darvydas Sernas took the places of Vladislavs Gabovs, Deividas Matulevicius, and Nerijus Valskis.
Whereas, Gareth Southgate was in an experimental mood with Qualification secured thanks to last Thursday’s home victory over Slovenia, a win in which Harry Kane also netted the only goal.
He would opt for a change of system, like his counterpart, but to a 3-4-2-1 formation after making seven changes to his team.
They started in goal with Jack Butland replacing Joe Hart, there would be first England starts for West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell and Tottenham’s Harry Winks in place of Ryan Bertrand and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain respectively.
Elsewhere, Harry Maguire started in defence for his debut alongside Michael Keane, they replaced Gary Cahill and Eric Dier and Spurs duo Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier took the places of Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling.
After the Managers made a remarkable 13 changes between them, play could begin on The Continent with the visitors dominating from the off, as Cresswell’s delivery should have been buried by Maguire on three minutes.
Just moments after that, the home Side went close themselves with Darvydas Sernas’ volley going just wide of Butland’s near post.
Another teasing delivery from Cresswell eventually led to a shooting chance for Keane, but his volley flew wide just moments after Ovidijus Verbickas volleyed into the arms of Butland at the other end.
However, on 28 minutes, Jordan Henderson played Alli in for Verbickas to haul him down with a flailing leg and give Referee Orel Grinfeld no chance but to point to the spot.
Captain Kane duly converted the penalty via the post to give England a much-needed cushion and ultimately, a fitting end to another superb Qualification campaign.
Meanwhile, it could have two just minutes later as Harry Winks pulled the strings in midfield but Alli just couldn’t bring his cross under control.
Marcus Rashford soon found his mojo and was only denied by the outstretched arm of Ernestas Setkus after a dazzling run and shot but the lead stayed slim at the Break.
The second period would turn out to be very similar to the first and almost reminiscent of an attack against defence style Training exercise for England.
Early in the half, the likes of Winks and Cresswell were both denied by some magnificent goalkeeping from Setkus, meanwhile, Butland was forced into saving from Keane at the other end, as the Everton man came ever so close to having egg on his face.
However, there would be one last worry for Butland late on as he was forced into a nervy save from substitute Deividas Matulevicius, but there would be no impact on the score-line and the job was done for England.
For Lithuania, another hopeless Qualification campaign comes to an end by finishing fifth in Group F, nevertheless, they can be proud of the fight they showed against The Three Lions.
Meanwhile, England were celebrating a sixth successive World Cup Qualifying Group win and a 16th consecutive Qualifier unbeaten, even though they did limp over the finish line with two unconvincing 1-0 victories.
Despite this, it’s an impressive finishing tally of 26 points, a feat only bettered by Switzerland and Germany, something that will hold them in good stead for upcoming friendlies against Germany and Brazil, but more importantly, Russia 2018.
Man of the Match: Aaron Cresswell