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Lackluster England held to draw by Slovenia

England's Wayne Rooney, right, takes the captain's armband from England's Jordan Henderson after coming on the field during the World Cup Group F qualifying soccer match between Slovenia and England, at Stozice stadium in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
(AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

England were lucky to come away with a scoreless draw against Slovenia in Ljubljana on Tuesday in the World Cup qualifiers.

A lot of talk leading up to the game surrounded interim manager Gareth Southgate and his decision to put captain Wayne Rooney on the bench. Rooney played in midfield against Malta and didn’t have the best outing, so in his place, Eric Dier stepped into the team.

Dier, and the whole English team except for goalkeeper Joe Hart, had a poor outing at the Stozice Stadium. The Tottenham midfielder had a mistake that led to the best scoring chance of the game. With an errand back pass in the 11th minute, Slovenia got a break and ended up hitting the post after a curled shot by Benjamin Verbic.

England controlled most of the ball, but they rarely threatened Jan Oblak in the Slovenian net. When looking at the two games under Gareth Southgate, it’s clear that there’s a lack of creativity in the side. On paper, these players shouldn’t be struggling against sides like Slovenia, but they fail to come together as a team and utilize their skills. Jordan Henderson was handed the captain’s armband, but the Liverpool midfielder had a major lapse in judgement when he gave away the ball after attempting a no-look pass.

Southgate thanked Hart after the game for playing well between the posts. The Torino goalkeeper stood for a great save early in the second half when Slovenia got an opportunity through Jasmin Kurtic from close range.

“The overall objective is to qualify so long term that could be an important point,” Southgate told BBC Sport. “Everyone can see we could be better but their chances came from our mistakes or set-pieces.

“We owe our goalkeeper really for getting a point. He was fantastic. He’s at his best when he’s calm and composed, it’s something we’ve discussed and this week his manner has been very calm. He was at his best tonight. It was a brilliant save, we didn’t start either half well and it’s an outstanding save that gets us a point.

“I can’t thank the players and support team enough for the backing I have had. We wanted six points but we have taken over a mess and had to steady the ship. We are on track. I am going to have a couple of days to go and sleep.”

So despite starting Rooney on the bench, who has been vilified by several media outlets in England, the Three Lions failed to convince. One decision that should be highlighted is the fact that Southgate didn’t opt to start Marcus Rashford ahead of Daniel Sturridge as the central striker.

The young Manchester United forward has been in stellar form, but instead Southgate played it safe and went with the more experienced Sturridge. Rashford came on, but at that point only 10 minutes remained of the game and the youngster didn’t have enough time to really get into the game.

Luckily for England, they are in a very weak group. The away game to Slovenia is on paper one of their toughest matches in the qualifiers, so getting a point isn’t a total catastrophe. They still sit at the top of the group with seven points, two points ahead of Lithuania and Slovenia.  

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