Tottenham striker Harry Kane's late goal ensures England qualify for Russia World Cup
PUBLISHED: 21:54 05 October 2017 | UPDATED: 22:57 05 October 2017
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Tottenham forward Harry Kane's late goal made sure England qualified for next summer's World Cup in Russia as Gareth Southgate's men beat Slovenia 1-0.
The in-form Spurs man netted on 94 minutes following a cross into the box from former Spurs team-mate Kyle Walker to defeat their determined opponents, sending the 61,598 crowd into raptures.
With Dele Alli suspended for one match for a middle-finger gesture he says was aimed at Walker during September’s 2-1 win over Slovakia Southgate replaced him with Marcus Rashford.
John Stones came in for Phil Jones and Eric Dier took Jake Livermore’s place from the team that beat Malta 4-0 last month.
The Slovenia side managed by Srecko Katanec may have arrived late at Wembley but this was no meaningless game for the country with a two million population bordered by Italy to the west.
The team bossed by Katanec – regarded by many as their greatest player, and who played for Yugoslavia during Italia 90 – started the fixture five points behind England.
But they were only a point behind second-placed Slovakia and level with Scotland with a play-off spot still a realistic proposition - but only if they could get a result in North West London.
Southgate who set up his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation would know more than most about Slovenia’s capabilities. His second match was against them in a goalless draw at Stadion Stozice, the memory of which ensured Thursday’s opponents were not to be taken lightly.
England were 37 unbeaten in qualifiers for the World Cup or Euros at kick-off and the confidence that comes from such a run showed – even if the Three Lions’ performances at tournaments are a different story entirely.
Southgate’s captain for the night Harry Kane, started brightly, twisting and turning before firing a low shot from distance in the opening minutes.
Slovenia’s highly-rated keeper Jan Oblak gathered comfortably, as befits Athletic Madrid’s shot-stopper, but it was an indication Spurs talisman had his eye in.
Kane, 24, who was loaned to Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester before sealing a first-team spot at Spurs is a shining example as a player who believes in the value of hard work allowing his natural talent to shine.
With 41 goals for club and country so far in 2017 it was no surprise to hear Kane mentioned as a possible Balon d’Or contender.
With 13 goals domestically and internationally in September – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have never hit more in a month – Kane was hungry for more.
As the match approached the half-hour mark after industrious work out on the left flank by a lively Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson fired a low right-footed shot that Oblak turned away to his left for a corner that came to nothing.
Walker then fired over when well-placed from a free-kick on the edge of the area on 34 minutes that brought back nothing but memories of underachievement.
It was hardly surprising as nine players in England’s squad tonight were with former boss Roy Hodgson in the 2014 World Cup when England performed miserably while everyone else seemed to be having a carnival in Brazil.
When was it ever thus you could ask – even if youngsters like Rashford give fans renewed hope. He again showed maturity beyond his years with an impudent free-kick that nearly surprised Oblak at his near post right on half-time.
But as the German referee Felix Zwayer blew for the interval 0-0 was a fair reflection on proceedings.
Rashford was played through by Sterling after the break after a sweeping move by England. Although the 19-year-old made the wrong choice with a weak lob he shouldn’t be condemned for having the imagination to try something different.
Sterling then had a low drive cleared off the line by Bostjan Cesar as England stepped up their attacking intent.
Yet it still wasn’t enough to stop fans throwing paper airplanes, their attention spans presumably not long enough to cheer their team to victory.
As the clocked ticked down, England, not realising a draw would be enough went to three at the back. But Josip Illicic played a superb left-footed through-ball that the onrushing Tim Matavz narrowly failed to slot past West Ham’s Hart.
It appeared England would qualify on the back of a 0-0 draw – but that was without Kane’s predatory instincts.
Former Spurs team-mate Kyle Walker fired a low cross into the box as Kane desire for a goal simply proved too strong. Despite Oblak’s desperate attempt to keep the ball out it trickled into the net sending the crowd into dreamland.
England now play the might of Germany and Brazil next month at Wembley Stadium.
But after tonight all eyes will be on the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer – and Kane’s Three Lions team.
England: Hart, Walker, Stones (booked 44), Cahill, Bertrand, Henderson, Dier, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lingard 64), Sterling, (Keane 85), Rashford, Kane
Slovenia: Oblak, Struna (booked 86), Mevlja (booked 45), Cesar, Jokic, Bezjak (Repasat 72), Krhin (booked 38), Rotman (booked 51, subbed for Matavzat, 79), Verbic, Ilicic, Sporar (Birsaat 55, booked 90).
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Germany).