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Sep 4, 2017 at 7.45pm UK at Wembley Stadium
Attendance: 67,823
Dier (37'), Rashford (59')
FT(HT: 1-1)
Lobotka (3')

Preview: England vs. Slovakia

Sports Mole previews Monday's World Cup qualifier between Group F's top two teams as leaders England host Slovakia at Wembley.

England could take a huge stride towards booking a place at the 2018 World Cup when they welcome Group F rivals Slovakia to Wembley on Monday night.

Just two points currently separate the sides at the top of their World Cup qualifying group, and the winner would be in pole position to clinch the only automatic place in Russia with two games remaining.


Interim England manager Gareth Southgate on the touchline during the international friendly with Spain at Wembley on November 15, 2016© SilverHub

On the face of it, Friday night's 4-0 win over Malta seems like a predictably comfortable win for a team ranked 177 places above their opponents at the Ta'Qali National Stadium, but the game itself told a different story.

It took until the 53rd minute for England to break the deadlock through Harry Kane, and the three late goals that eventually gave the final scoreline its one-sided look were flattering for Gareth Southgate's side.

The performance drew criticism despite the four-goal winning margin, and once again raised questions regarding whether England will be able to make serious headway at next summer's World Cup if they only struggle past Malta - and it was a struggle for much of the game.

Only three competitive matches remain before England hope to be on the plane for the tournament, and Southgate continues to experiment with personnel, formation and even captains.

Jordan Henderson wore the armband against Malta and will do so again on Monday, but Kane, Gary Cahill and Joe Hart could easily be handed the honour of leading the team out in future matches as Southgate declines to choose a permanent successor to the retired Wayne Rooney.

There is yet to be a truly inspiring England performance under Southgate either - November's 3-0 win over Scotland was the closest they have come - but despite that England remain in the Group F driving seat.

Victory over Slovakia would put them five points clear with two games remaining, meaning that they would need just two more points from a home tie with Slovenia and away trip to Lithuania next month to seal their place in Russia.

It has certainly not been a textbook qualifying campaign, though, and the visit to Slovakia will resurrect memories of Sam Allardyce's one-game spell in charge of the team in the reverse fixture, which England won 1-0 courtesy of a late Adam Lallana strike.

It is now 18 games since England last lost a World Cup qualifier - including seven clean sheets in their last eight - and 36 without defeat when counting qualifying matches in all competitions.

At Wembley England are on a seven-match winning streak and 21-match unbeaten run in World Cup qualifiers which stretches back to 2000 and includes 19 wins, conceding just nine goals in that time and scoring 61.

Indeed, England have won their last 12 competitive matches in a row at home, which is their longest ever winning run at Wembley.

Recent form: WDWWDW
Recent form (all competitions): DLWDLW


Marek Hamsik celebrates scoring during the Euro 2016 Group B game between Russia and Slovakia on June 15, 2016© AFP

Slovakia will make the trip to Wembley as underdogs, but they will also know that a surprise victory would put them on the brink of qualifying automatically for just their second ever World Cup.

It is a make-or-break match for the visitors in some ways as defeat would all but end their chances of claiming top spot in the group, while victory leaves them with a one-point advantage over England heading into their final two fixtures.

A home tie against Malta on the final matchday should be a guaranteed three points, but Slovakia also face a trickier trip to Scotland next month - although if they are able to win at Wembley then a trip to Hampden Park will not faze them.

Friday's victory over Slovenia took a lot of the pressure off their own shoulders, with a Miha Mevlja own goal nine minutes from time enough to hand the hosts a crucial win in Trnava.

The result gives them some breathing space going into Monday's match, with Slovenia and Scotland both now four points adrift and unable to catch Slovakia during this international break regardless of what happens on Monday night.

The prospect of a straight battle for second place with Scotland is on the cards, but for now Jan Kozak will be gearing his side up for the toughest match in Group F as Slovakia look to become the first side in 17 years to win a World Cup qualifier away to England.

Slovakia's performances so far this year have not been too convincing, though, beginning 2017 by losing to Uganda and being thrashed 6-0 by Sweden, before only edging past Malta, Lithuania and Slovenia in their last three outings.

Slovakia's last victory away to a home nation came in September 2009 when they beat Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park, but they will be familiar with England by now as this will be the third time they have faced them since last June.

Whether or not that stands them in good stead remains to be seen, but a Wembley win is likely to be the only route to top spot in Group F.

Recent form: LWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): DLLWWW

Team News

England midfielder Eric Dier in action during his side's international friendly with Spain at Wembley on November 15, 2016© SilverHub

Southgate is able to welcome Eric Dier back into the side for Monday's match after the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder served a one-game ban against Malta last time out.

Dier could replace Jake Livermore in the starting XI, slotting in alongside captain Henderson in the middle of the park.

Southgate has confirmed that Hart will once again start despite increasing competition for the number one jersey, while Phil Jones will also retain his place.

Kane will lead the line following his brace against Malta, which took him up to five goals in his last three appearances for England - the same number as he managed in his first 17.

Nathaniel Chalobah and Harry Maguire will once again be hopeful of making their debuts having missed out against Malta, while Danny Welbeck and Marcus Rashford are also pushing for a recall having made an impact off the bench on Friday.

Slovakia, meanwhile, welcome former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and Jan Durica back from suspension, but goalkeeper Matus Kozacik will play no part due to a back injury.

Napoli's Marek Hamsik is set to make his 99th appearance for his country, leaving him just one short of becoming only the second Slovakian to reach a century of caps.

England possible starting lineup:
Hart; Walker, Jones, Cahill, Bertrand; Henderson, Dier, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dele, Rashford; Kane.

Slovakia possible starting lineup:
Dubravka; Pekarik, Skrtel, Skriniar, Hubocan; Mak, Kucka, Lobotka, Hamsik, Rusnak; Nemec

Head To Head

This will be the sixth meeting between these two sides, and including Monday's contest three of those will have come within the past 15 months.

The two sides drew 0-0 at Euro 2016 last summer before England edged a 1-0 victory under Allardyce less than three months later.

The goalless draw in France is the only time Slovakia have avoided defeat against England, though, with the Three Lions running out victors in four of the previous five meetings - including a 4-0 triumph on Slovakia's most recent visit to Wembley in 2009.

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We say: England 2-1 Slovakia

Slovakia come into this match on the back of five consecutive qualifying victories and therefore should be full of confidence, but England's record at Wembley is imperious. Southgate has not quite captured the nation's imagination yet, and the likelihood of doing so in this game is slim, but the hosts should still have enough to get the three points.

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England midfielder Jordan Henderson in action during his side's World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley on November 11, 2016
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Friday's key events

· The athletics schedule begins, with 100m sprinter Dina Asher-Smith among the names in action on the opening day. The men's 10,000m final concludes the action, with Team GB's Sam Atkin and Marc Scott taking part in the absence of 2012 and 2016 champion Sir Mo Farah (1am-2.30pm)

· Victoria Thornley is Team GB's representative in the women's single sculls final (1.33am)
· Great Britain will be going for gold in the men's eight final (2.25am)

· Team GB duo Molly Renshaw and Abbie Wood take part in the women's 200m breaststroke final, but new Olympic record-holder Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa is the hot favourite (2.41am)
· Luke Greenbank has very realistic ambitions of picking up a medal in the men's 200m backstroke final (2.50am)
· There is also British representation in the women's 100m freestyle final, although any medal for Anna Hopkin would be a surprise (2.59am)
· With one gold and one silver already under his belt at these Games, Duncan Scott goes again in the men's 200m individual medley final (3.16am)

· Bryony Page will be looking to repeat her 2016 heroics in the women's event (5am-7.30pm)

· Bradley Forbes-Cryans will be looking to emulate Rio gold medallist Joe Clarke in the men's kayak event (6am-9am)

· The women's tournament enters the quarter-finals, with Great Britain facing Australia at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium (10am)

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