Good evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's World Cup
qualifier between Slovenia
in Ljubljana! These two sides come into this match unbeaten after two games in Group F and will be looking for another positive result this evening in the second of their October international double-header. We will take an in-depth look at both teams a little later but, before that, let's have a look at the team news...
ENGLAND STARTING XI: Hart; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Rose; Dier, Henderson; Walcott, Alli, Lingard; Sturridge
ENGLAND SUBS: Smalling, Forster, Gibbs, Antonio, Keane, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rooney, Vardy, Rashford, Townsend, Pickford
We will bring you the Slovenia team when it filters through, but let's first have a look at that England side, and there are no prizes for guessing what the headline is. Wayne Rooney only makes the bench for the Three Lions this evening, as Gareth Southgate
revealed would be the case yesterday. We knew it was coming, but it is still a big call from the interim boss to leave out his captain and most experienced player. It is something many fans have been calling for for some time, though, and Rooney's absence from the starting lineup at club level has certainly not helped him either.
Rooney's absence means that Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson gets the armband tonight, and it will be a very special occasion for the midfielder. He put in a man-of-the-match display against Malta, and in truth that may well have saved his place for this game. Southgate may have been thinking about dropping Henderson before Rooney in the centre of midfield, but Henderson was comfortably the standout player against Malta and was pretty much undroppable after that performance.
One of the central midfielders was always likely to make way, with Eric Dier
have been rested against Malta following a recent hamstring problem. The Tottenham Hotspur man is back now, though, and fit to start alongside Henderson in one of two changes to the side that beat Malta on Saturday. The second comes in defence and is an enforced one, with Danny Rose returning to the starting lineup after Bertrand was forced off through injury during the first half of that Malta match.
That means that Jesse Lingard retains his place in the team having made his debut against Malta, although it is expected to be a slightly different formation with the Manchester United man in a trio behind the striker this time, as opposed to a front three. Walcott is another who keeps his place as he edges ever closer to 50 caps, and he will be hoping to channel some of his Arsenal form from this season into tonight's game. The winger has four in four for the Gunners so far this term, but wasn't involved a great deal against Malta.
The main bulk of the chances during Saturday's match fell the way of Dele Alli and Daniel Sturridge, and although both got on the scoresheet, they could have made things a lot more convincing for England. Even so, both start once again tonight, with Sturridge continuing to hold off the competition from Vardy and Rashford to lead the line. Alli's performance as a number 10 against Malta drew some praise, and he is expected to operate in a similar role tonight.
At the back, it is a landmark occasion for Gary Cahill as he makes his 50th appearance for his country, once again starting alongside Stones as Smalling is forced to settle for a place on the bench. The Tottenham pairing of Walker and Rose will operate on the flanks and will no doubt look to get forward at every available opportunity tonight. Torino's Joe Hart
, meanwhile, is the most experienced member of the team following Rooney's relegation to the bench.
SLOVENIA STARTING XI: Oblak; Struna, Samardzic, Cesar, Jokic; Krhin; Kurtic, Birsa, Verbic; Ilicic, Bezjak
SLOVENIA SUBS: Crnic, Novakovic, Jovic, Omladic, Kronaveter, Koprivec, Trajkovski, Belec, Skubic, Pihler, Mevlja, Zajc
Slovenia, meanwhile, name an unchanged team to the one that beat Slovakia 1-0 on Saturday, which means that the match-winner from that game - Rok Kronaveter - once again has to settle for a place on the bench from the start. Ilicic and Bezjak lead the line for the home side instead, although you can expect the former to drift out wide and not play as an out-and-out striker. Birsa can be a creative threat in behind those two front men, while Krhin will look to protect his defence against the likes of Alli as effectively as he did against Hamsik on Saturday.
The star of this Slovenia team is the man between the sticks, though, and he is their best hope of getting a point or more from this match. Jan Oblak has kept 49 clean sheets in just 85 matches for Atletico Madrid, while only Manuel Neuer and Gianluigi Buffon have kept more clean sheets in Europe's top five leagues of the past three years. He is rarely on the end of a hammering either - only once in his last 53 games for Atletico has he conceded more than one goal. He doesn't, of course, have the Atletico defence in front of him tonight, but in Cesar he has a very experienced defender who already holds the Slovenian record for caps with 93.
It may well be a rearguard action job for Slovenia tonight then, as is often the case when teams take on England. The hosts will come into this match feeling quietly confident, though, with their visitors not in a particularly good place right now and Slovenia coming off the back of an unexpected win. Slovenia currently sit 39 places below Slovakia in the FIFA rankings, so the victory was a big one for the country, and it is worth remembering that it is the same scoreline that England managed against Slovakia.
It was Slovenia's first win of the campaign, but they are one of only three teams in Group F who remain unbeaten after two games. They sit level on four points with Scotland heading into tonight's match, and another surprise win would see them leapfrog England in the standings. Of course, that is a big ask considering the disparity between the two teams on paper, but Slovenia are not an easy team to score against and there is always the danger of teams like that being able to nick a 1-0 win.
Having said that, the hosts' victory over Slovakia is their only win in five matches, so they weren't in brilliant form heading into this international break. Before that five-game run, though, they had only lost one of six internationals, so it can be quite difficult to know what to expect from Srecko Katanec
's side. That is perhaps best shown by their most recent two results, which saw them draw 2-2 with Lithuania - ranked 117th in the world - but then beat Slovakia - ranked 28th in the world.
Tonight they are looking for back-to-back victories for the first time in two years, and the fact that they have consecutive home matches will help a great deal with that. While their overall record is pretty patchy, they record in front of their own fans is actually quite impressive. They have only lost one of their last nine competitive outings in Ljubljana, winning six and drawing two, although it should also be noted that the solitary defeat did come against England in June 2015.
Including friendlies, since that loss to England Slovenia have been beaten only once in six home matches, with that coming against Turkey. The 3-2 loss to England in June of last year was a bit of an anomaly, though, as Slovenia rarely have goalfests in their home matches. Indeed, in the six matches since that loss to Roy Hodgson's England, Slovenia had not scored or conceded more than one goal in a game at home.
England will be particularly wary of their record here in World Cup qualifiers too. Slovenia have won nine of their last 12 home games when looking to reach the World Cup - a run that stretches back to 2005. What's more, they have kept eight clean sheets in that time, conceding only six goals. Three of those clean sheets have come in their last three qualifiers - all of which have been wins - and another victory tonight would give them four in a row for the first time since 2004.
These two teams should know each other pretty well having also met in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. England topped the group with a perfect record, but Slovenia - though 14 points behind the Three Lions in the end - did fairly well themselves. They won five of their 10 matches and were only five points adrift of second-placed Switzerland in the end. Their third-placed finish saw them enter the playoffs, but they were beaten 3-1 by Ukraine over two legs.
There is no doubt that England will come into this match as favourites to win it, though, and anything less would pile yet more pressure onto the team's shoulders. It has been a troublesome few months for the English national team, from the embarrassing Euro 2016 exit at the hands of Iceland to Sam Allardyce being forced to step down just 67 days into his reign. Saturday's win over Malta didn't do a great deal to appease the situation, and failure to pick up the three points tonight will only exacerbate things.
As things stand, though England are top of Group F with two wins from two and no goals conceded, and there are plenty of teams who would swap places with the Three Lions right now. They are one of only five teams yet to concede in World Cup qualifying, alongside Germany, Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland and Belgium, although at the other end of the field none of the current group leaders have scored fewer than England's three. Indeed, Azerbaijan are the only team currently in a potential qualifying position who have scored fewer than England.
It is England's failure to convert chances which has been one of the biggest problems recently - on the field at least. It was the story of their Euro 2016 group games and it has so far continued into the World Cup qualification campaign. England have had 87 shots, including blocked, in their last four games, but from that they have only managed four goals. It was a similar story against Malta on Saturday, with a number of chances going begging and Southgate having to make do with a 2-0 win in his first match.
For all of England's troubles at tournaments themselves, their recent record in qualifying has been exemplary. The win over Malta means that they have now won 14 qualifying games in a row, a run that includes 11 clean sheets and stretches back to September 2013 when they were held to a 0-0 draw by Ukraine. Their unbeaten streak again goes back to a match against Ukraine, this time a 1-0 loss in October 2009. Since then, England have avoided defeat in 31 qualifiers, which includes 24 wins.
Defeats are few and far between when only looking at World Cup qualifiers too. England are unbeaten in 13 since that loss to Ukraine in 2009, while the run stretches back to only one defeat in 24 and two in 39 since the 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Germany in 2000 - the final game at the old Wembley. They have won each of their last four World Cup qualifiers, and another victory this evening would see them make it five on the bounce for the first time since 2009.
Away from home, England are unbeaten in their last 15 qualifiers stretching back six years and one day, winning 11 of those matches. They have also kept clean sheets in six of their last seven away qualifying matches, although the exception in that run was on their last visit here, when they edged a late 3-2 victory. They also needed a very late goal to overcome Slovakia in their first away qualifier in this group, while their most recent full World Cup qualifying campaign saw them win only twice.
The clean sheets have dried up a little for England, though, with only four in their last 11 outings in all competitions. Many teams might be content with that, but England are used to a little better than that. They have only lost one of their last nine outings, winning six, but that defeat was the hugely damaging one to Iceland at Euro 2016 - a result described by some as the worst in England's history.
PREDICTION: Right, we're 10 minutes away from kickoff in Ljubljana, which means that it is time for a prediction! I am expecting a tight contest today and, although England are favourites, they know that they will have their work cut out to come away with all three points. I would not be at all surprised to see the hosts manage to nick a draw, but I am backing England to come away with a 2-1 victory.
A 2-1 England win would continue the trend between these sides in previous meetings, all four of which have gone the way of the Three Lions. Slovenia have scored in three of those four meetings, with the only exception coming at the 2010 World Cup when England scraped a 1-0 victory. It is never a particularly one-sided affair, though, with England having only beaten Slovenia by more than one goal on one occasion - a 3-1 win at Wembley in November 2014.
The most recent meeting between the two sides came in June of last year, and against all expectations it turned out to be something of a thriller. Slovenia took the lead in the first half before a brace from Jack Wilshere put the visitors ahead with 15 minutes remaining. Pecnik then scored to level things up in the 84th minute, but Rooney came to the rescue two minutes later to nick the win and maintain England's 100% record in qualifying for Euro 2016.
Rooney also scored in the 3-1 win at Wembley earlier in the qualifying campaign as England were once again forced to come from behind following a Henderson own goal. Seven of England's nine goals against Slovenia have actually come in the second half of matches - including each of the last six in a row - so it may be a question of patience for the visitors tonight.
Right, we're just about ready to get going in Ljubljana. The national anthems have been belted out, with the home fans making a good noise during theirs, and 90 more minutes of international football now awaits!
KICKOFF: Here we go then! Sturridge gets us underway for this World Cup qualifier!
SHOT! England have made a quick start to this match and win an early free kick that is played out to Rose. The left-back's delivery is poor, but the ball falls to Alli, who plays it out wide to Sturridge. The Liverpool man tries a quick snapshot from the right side of the box, but he sends it wide of the post.
CHANCE! Early chance for England! They break forward really well from midfield as Henderson gives it to Alli, who brings it forward before picking out an incisive pass to Sturridge. The Liverpool's striker's touch is just a little too heavy, though, and Oblak gets a hand to it to push it behind for a corner.
For all of the team's troubles recently, you have to give credit to the England supporters. More than 80,000 were at Wembley for the Malta game on Saturday, and the travelling support are making plenty of noise here tonight too.
Really good pressure from the home side as they get England pinned back in their own box. The defence waste a number of chances to clear their lines before the attack eventually ends with a Birsa effort that goes high and wide.
SHOT! Sturridge has another go here as he picks the ball up around 30 yards from goal. He weighs up his options before choosing to have a pop, but he curls his effort comfortably over. It would have to be some strike to beat Oblak from there!
OFF THE POST! Oh my word, England are very, very lucky here! It is a mistake all of their own making as Dier's passback is woefully underhit to send Bezjak clean through on goal. He only has Hart to beat, but the keeper makes himself big to make a vital save. The danger is not gone yet, though, and soon the ball is played back to Kurtic, who cuts onto his left foot and curls a decent effort against the post. The ball then bounces back out to Bezjak, but he can't react in time to turn it home. A few massive chances in there for the hosts!
That is a huge let-off for England, and they won't need telling. Hart has kept them level with the big save from the one-on-one, but he also needed the woodwork to come to his rescue. Dier will be the most relieved man on the field.
If any of these England players were in any doubt that this would be a very different game to their win over Malta on Saturday, they won't be now. Slovenia have started this match with plenty of energy and attacking intent, and they are looking dangerous when they come forward.
UPDATE: There are a couple of other home nations in action tonight, including Northern Ireland against world champions Germany. Unsurprisingly, it is Germany who have taken the lead there through Draxler.
Slovenia win a free kick that is curled into the middle and nodded back in towards a dangerous area. Stones is there, though, and he produces a very un-Sones-like clearance by hoofing it into the stands.
UPDATE: It has not been a particularly good night for the home nations so far! Scotland now find themselves behind against Slovakia courtesy of a Mak goal, although that is good news for England in terms of the Group F standings.
YELLOW CARD! The first card of the night is shown to Dier for a challenge from behind as Slovenia were looking to break. He actually got the ball there, but it is the type of challenge that you can't really make any more.
SHOT! Dier drives forward from midfield before playing the ball out wide for Walcott, who only has one thing on his mind. He tries to drill a powerful effort into the top corner, but it flies over the crossbar.
Still no goals after 25 minutes here, but the hosts will probably be the happier of the two teams at the way this game as started. England have had a couple of chances, but the biggest of the game - and the closest either side has come to scoring - has been from Slovenia.
Decent spell of possession for England, but they can't get any major progress due to the shape and discipline of this Slovenia defence. They are pressing the visitors really well and making things very difficult for them.
Stones has started this match well for England, showing all of his trademark composure on the ball. He has looked like being in a sticky situation a couple of times, but has been able to play his way out of trouble so far.
YELLOW CARD! Sturridge is the second player in the book, although this time it is a harsh decision from the referee for what was a fairly innocuous challenge.
England are seeing more of the ball now, but still they aren't making any serious progress. Slovenia are coping with things very comfortably so far.
England are now pushing their centre-backs quite high up the field, and Cahill tries his luck from range here. It is a decent move from the visitors before Lingard tees up Cahill, but his low strike is deflected wide.
SLOVENIA SUB: Slovenia have their first card of the match as Birsa goes into the book.
There were plenty of chances in the opening 10 minutes of this match, but since then there really hasn't been too much to report. The vast majority of the game has been played in the middle third, with both teams struggling to make serious ground in attack.
CHANCE! Half a chance for England as Henderson swings a free kick into the box which Cahill attacks really well. He gets his head to it, though, but his effort strikes an unaware Kurtic before it can trouble the keeper.
Still no shots on target for England tonight. The visitors do have an element of control of the match now, but that is not to say that they are threatening Slovenia.
HALF TIME: Slovenia 0-0 England
The first half comes to an end in Ljubljana, then, and it has not been good so far. It is still goalless, and England may well be the happier of the two teams with that scoreline considering how the first half panned out. It has been an even game for the most part, but the best chances have fallen the way of the home side.
Slovenia came within inches of breaking the deadlock after just 10 minutes when Kurtic sent a curling effort against the post moments after Bezjak had squandered a glorious chance. Dier's blind pass-back only served as a through-ball for Bezjak, who found himself with only Joe Hart to beat, but the England keeper stayed big to make a very important save.
Kurtic then proceeded to curl his strike against the woodwork, but from that rebound Bezjak missed another big chance. The striker had the goal gaping, but curiously went to finish it with the outside of his boot rather than just guiding it home. Sure enough, his effort skewed well off target and England were left to breathe a big sigh of relief that they were still level.
England have had a few sights of goal themselves, most of which came for Sturridge in the opening 10 minutes. The Liverpool man sent an early snapshot wide after just two minutes before his touch let him down shortly after following a good through-ball from Alli. He also had one speculative effort from range that failed to trouble Oblak, while Walcott had one of his own later in the half. Indeed, England failed to muster a single effort on target during that opening 45 minutes.
The visitors just haven't look fluid and familiar when going forward so far, with Slovenia dealing with all of their possession quite comfortably. Walcott and Lingard have barely been in the game at all while Alli has been less of an attacking presence than Southgate would have like. Dare I say it may soon be time for Rooney to enter the fray?
KICKOFF: Slovenia get us back underway for the second half in Ljubljana - can they hold on for a big point here?
CHANCE! Slovenia have a big chance within seconds of kickoff! It is lovely play from the hosts as Ilicic plays a one-two on his way into the box to find himself with only Hart to beat. The angle is against him, though, and he disguises a low pull-back that is behind three of his teammates and is hacked clear by Walcott.
SAVES! England are really on the ropes here! From the first corner Cesar bundles it goalwards and Hart needs to make a smart save from close range to turn it behind. Kurtic gets his head to the second corner at the back post, but Hart makes an extraordinary save to claw it back onto the bar. He then got the slightest of touches with his right hand to help it stay out too before the defence completed the clearance. That was truly a world-class save.
Hart hurt himself while making that save, but after a couple of minutes of treatment he is up and ready to continue. That may do England good as they had made a very shaky start to this second half.
England respond with a much-needed piece of possession that just takes the momentum away from the hosts. Gareth Southgate
's side are very fortunate to still be level here, though.
More really good pressing from Slovenia as they get the England defence penned right back towards their own goalline. England manage to get out, though, and make a quick break, but the final ball towards Sturridge is just too soft and Slovenia are able to get it behind for a corner.
England are seeing more of the ball in better positions now, and they win another corner here as Walker's low pass into the box is turned behind. Slovenia are still holding firm, though.
SAVE! England have their first shot on target! It is Alli who goes for goal from just outside the area, but it is straight at Oblak, who gathers it with minimum fuss.
Here is that stunning save from Joe Hart in all of its glory...
CLOSE! Slovenia come close to the opening goal once again as Ilicic harries Stones to win the ball inside the England half. He picks the ball up again moments later before flashing a low strike narrowly wide.
SLOVENIA SUB: The hosts make their first change of the night as Birsa is replaced by Kronaveter - a match winner on his debut against Slovakia on Saturday.
UPDATE: There has been a second goal in the match between Slovakia and Scotland, and it has gone the way of the home side through Mak once again. They lead 2-0 now, which would blow Group F wide open if this stays goalless too.
ENGLAND SUB: England make their first change of the contest, and it is Andros Townsend who comes on in place of Walcott.
SAVE! Townsend looks to make an immediate impact, driving forward with the ball before opening his body and looking to curl one into the bottom far corner. It looks to be heading wide, but Oblak takes no chances and pushes it away.
Again England almost create problems of their own making. Stones tries to nod the ball back towards goal from a long way out, and it interests Ilicic, but Cahill is back there to deal with the danger. The visitors have been sloppy back there at times tonight, though.
Slovenia have concerns over their captain and highest appearance maker Cesar here. He has been struggling for the past few minutes and looks like he may need to be stretchered off here.
SLOVENIA SUB: There is the change as Cesar is carried off to be replaced by Miha Mevlja.
CHANCE! Another huge chance for Slovenia, and another huge save from Hart! It is again of England's own making as this time Henderson is guilty of a blind back-pass that sends Ilicic through on goal. He beats Cahill to the ball before breaking into the box, but Hart denies the striker. The Torino man has kept his side in this match!
UPDATE: Is Gordon Strachan on his way out of the Scotland job? Adam Nemec has made it 3-0 to Slovakia in one of the other Group F matches taking place tonight.
ENGLAND SUB: It's time for Rooney! He replaces Alli with less than 20 minutes left, and it looks as though it is a straight swap in the number 10 role.
Just 15 minutes remain here in Ljubljana, and we're still goalless. It is a result Slovenia may have taken before the game, but right now it is England who will be the happier with a draw.
CHANCE! Cahill pings a long ball over to the left flank for Rose, who takes it down well before cutting inside. He beats his man on his way into the area, but then rushes his shot and drags it wide.
CHANCE! Another chance for the visitors as this time Lingard turns and plays Sturridge through down the right side of the box. Rooney is open at the far post, but Sturridge goes for goal on his weaker right foot from a tight angle which Oblak comfortably saves. That was selfish from the Liverpool man.
CLOSE! Rooney has written hundreds of headlines during his career, and he looks to do so again here with a low curling effort from just outside the area. He puts it a yard or so past the post, though.
A worry for Slovenia here as Verbic goes down and looks to be in some pain.
ENGLAND SUB: Verbic looks like he will continue, but Sturridge's evening is over as he makes way to be replaced by Marcus Rashford.
SAVE! England come close to the opening goal as Lingard latches on to Rooney's layoff before driving forward and drilling a low strike towards goal that Oblak turns behind for a corner.
SLOVENIA SUB: A third and final change for the hosts sees Nik Omladic replace Krhin.
It will be interesting to hear the reaction to this match from Southgate. England have not played well and are very fortunate to still be level.
YELLOW CARD! Kronaveter becomes the latest player in the book for Slovenia.
YELLOW CARD! Cahill quickly follows him into the book for a very heavy challenge on Ilicic. The defender got the ball, but went in strong and high. It's all kicking off between the players here!
YELLOW CARDS! More yellow cards follow for Lingard and Struna following that minor tussle.
There will be five minutes of normal time at the end of this match.
These closing stages are becoming scrappy, with Slovenia happy to break the game up with fouls as they look to hold on for a couple more minutes.
FULL TIME: Slovenia 0-0 England
The referee brings an end to proceedings in Ljubljana, and it is a goalless stalemate between Slovenia and England. It is a disappointing result for the visitors, but they may well be happy with having come away with a point as they could have quite easily lost this match. Joe Hart kept them in the game with a number of big saves - including one truly world-class stop - while the hosts also hit the woodwork in the first half. It is a point apiece, but many questions still remain for England and Gareth Southgate.
Right, that is all we have time for this evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's match as England hold on for a point in Slovenia to stay top of World Cup qualifying Group F. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction too. From me, though, it is goodbye for now!