Match Report: England vs Slovakia: 2018 World Cup Qualifying Group F Match Day Eight 5th September 2017
A second-half stunner from young Manchester United prodigy Marcus Rashford completed a stellar comeback for Gareth Southgate’s England last night, as they moved onto the brink of qualification for next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
A shock early opener from Celta Vigo midfielder Stanislav Lobotka gave Jan Kozak’s Slovaks the lead after just three minutes, before The Three Lions came roaring back with goals from Eric Dier and Rashford to take all three points at Wembley Stadium.
Southgate made two changes from the side that were 0-4 victors in Malta on Friday, as Rashford and Tottenham Hotspur’s Dier replaced Raheem Sterling and West Brom midfielder Jake Livermore.
Foxes centre-back Harry Maguire missed out on the chance of a first cap for his country after being cut from the squad along with Red Devil Jesse Lingard ahead of the tie.
For the visitors, skipper Martin Skrtel returned from suspension in place of Norbert Gyomber and Jan Durica replaced Juraj Kucka, as they made the same amount of changes as the hosts from their 1-0 success over Slovenia last Friday night.
Close to 70,000 spectators in attendance in London witnessed an enthralling start to the encounter, as Slovaks struck first in the opening exchanges.
A wonderful dinked ball from Adam Nemek found Lobotka perfectly in the area after he had stolen the ball off Rashford.
The Number 22 was then left to finish past Joe Hart with relative ease, as the Hammers keeper was questioned for letting the ball slip into the net so close to his body.
Nevertheless, the goal stood and there would be momentary panic for England as Kozak’s men tried to seize their opportunity to gain pole position in Group F.
However, the home side would soon find their mojo and after several missed half chances, they finally drew level on the stroke of half-time from an unlikely goal-scorer.
A Three Lions corner was swung in from the right side by Rashford for Eric Dier to grab his first International goal since EURO 2016, with an exquisite finish into the roof of the net.
England were now going in search of the lead but weren’t without a worry at the other end as Ryan Bertrand appeared to foul Vladimir Weiss as the last man.
Luckily for the Saints full-back, Slovakian appeals were to the disinterest of the French referee.
England would start the second period in very much the same vein that they ended the first, as skipper Jordan Henderson went close but the lead wouldn’t be too far away on the hour mark.
This time, no nifty combination would be needed for The Three Lions, just pure magic from their number 7.
Rashford received the ball from his captain on the edge of the area, before taking it into his stride to unleash a scintillating curling effort that gave Martin Dubravka no chance and buried in the bottom corner.
The goal would prove to be the difference between the two nations, as England widened their lead at the top of the group.
Whereas, Slovakia are now being made to look nervously over their shoulder at Slovenia and Scotland sitting in third and fourth place.
Bizarrely, Spurs midfielder Dele Alli was widely questioned and criticised after the full-time after making what appeared to be an offensive hand gesture at referee Clement Turpin during the game.
But, Gareth Southgate confirmed post match that the signal was in fact made to former teammate Kyle Walker, saying “They have a strange way of communicating”.
Nevertheless, the incident did little to mar a vital England triumph to edge a step further on the Road to Russia.
Meanwhile, The Slovaks can afford no more slip ups if they are to clinch second place and will be hoping for victory over The Scots in a crunch match at Hampden Park, in their next outing.
However, for the boys in white and blue, the task could not be simpler. Win at Wembley against the Slovenians on October 5th and qualification for a fifth successive World Cup will be secured.
Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford