Before the match, spirits were quite high with Roy Hodgson happily taking selfies with the fans outside of the stadium. He came across feeling relaxed and in high sprits despite taking what some were deeming a risky approach to the last group game with six changes made to the side that beat Wales, including Wayne Rooney being benched.
Clearly Roy felt that the chances of England qualifying were pretty much in the bag but there was still a chance that they could fail to go through if results did not go their way. Wales were playing Russia at the same time and Wales still could go top of the group if they won. For fans of fixture puns, the powers that be decided to list the game as Russia v Wales so no WALRUS fun. That did not stop it trending on Twitter though.
Back to England, and the previous meetings could provide some positivity to those worried pre-match. The last time England played Slovakia, they won 4-0. Slovakia have failed to keep a clean sheet in the six major tournament matches they’ve played in; another good omen for England?
Slovakia could still go through in second place if they beat or draw with England, and Wales lost to Russia. Otherwise they had a chance to qualify to the knockout stages in third if other results went their way.
First half chances
England started brightly with Vardy almost scoring after a great pass from Clyne in front of the goal. England maintained the pressure with Lallana creating chances and Vardy sprinting down the pitch only to shoot straight at Kozacik for an easy save.
25 minutes passed and no goal for England despite further chances. In the Welsh game, they were already 2-0 up and sitting at the top of the group. England needed to finish one of the numerous opportunities they kept creating.
With Rooney and Kane on the bench, Henderson had taken over corner kicking duties but nothing came from any of the chances.
At half-time England went in without a goal despite having 66% of the possession and 3 shots on target. Slovakia have yet to have a shot on goal.
Second half began with no changes made by either side.
Ten minutes into the second half and England got very lucky after a terrible miscommunication between Hart and Smalling almost gifted the ball to Robert Mak in front of goal.
Rooney finally came on for Wilshere much to the delight to the England fans who had been chanting for him to play. With England looking nervy as time ticked on, Roy must have hoped Rooney’s experience would calm things and provide the much needed breakthrough.
After Alli came on for Lallana, he immediately had a chance to score. Henderson crossed the ball to him but Skrtl somehow managed to get in the way and block Alli’s shot.
A few minutes later, news of Wales’ third goal against Russia is received. The pressure on England kept mounting as their chances of topping the group were slipping away. The fans still hopeful of a win as the Great Escape is chanted continuously for the rest of the match.
England keep pushing the Slovakian defence and with more shots on goal failing to find the back of the net, Kane replaced Sturridge. With this substitution, there’s a change of formation to a diamond shape.
Sadly, the substitutions and change in formation do not result in the breakthrough. Despite all the efforts made, the Slovakian defence held solid. Even with the five minutes of added time, England could not find a last-minute winner like they managed against Wales.
With the final whistle blown, England finished the group in second place after Wales’ convincing win over Russia 3-0.
The majority of fans were disappointed with the result and questions have been raised over Roy’s team selection. However, it should be said that most teams in this tournament would have struggled to break down the Slovakian defence. It is very hard to score against a team where on average they kept at least eight players in the box. Skrtl did play incredibly well for Slovakia but he was the only player that stood out for the team. Marek Hamsik was uncharacteristically poor in the game.
The positives to take from the game are that England did create chances and did keep possession. They managed to control Slovakia on the rare chances they did break and most importantly, England have been unbeaten in all the group games.
If England can improve their finishing, then the team are definitely one of the better sides playing in the tournament. However, the night and the group deservedly belong to Wales.