On the Verge

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar October 10, 2015 14:59

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On the Verge

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 9th 2015)

Perfect?

Only Lithuania and a trip to Vilnius stand in Roy Hodgson’s way. England are on the verge of a perfect ten wins out of ten after an easy 2-0 victory over Estonia tonight. “We won”, Hodgson said. “That’s always a major positive. We knew it would be a hard 90 minutes. We were unlucky we didn’t score a few more. We had the possession in the final third enough, but the ninth victory out of nine was everything here”.

It was a significant victory. “The ninth victory out of nine and the one which if I believe everything you (the media) are telling me – and I don’t understand the rankings system – that means we’re going to be ceded for the European Championships”, Hodgson said. “That’s very, very important. We deserved our victory and I’m pleased that we got it”.

Theo Walcott put England ahead in first half injury time. A controversial 85th minute tap in by Raheem Sterling gave the match a truer reflection of England’s superiority over a team that last qualified for a major tournament over 90 years ago. At times it showed. Estonia were difficult to break down, but offered little going forward.

“What we tried to do is slow the game down and defend very well”, Estonia’s Swedish coach Magnus Pehrsson said. “We did that quite well. I think that the difference is of course just to look at where our players play and England players play. It was a tough game for us in that way. Even if we felt we followed our game plan, still when you are ambitious like I am and the team are, it’s always a bad feeling when you lose”.

Controversy

Jamie Vardy replaced Man of the Match Ross Barkley with less than ten minutes remaining. Sterling’s goal should perhaps have been disallowed as Vardy had pushed Taijo Teniste in the build-up. Teniste went down, but referee István Vad brushed aside the protests.

Pehrsson thought it should have been a free-kick. The replay supported his view. Nevertheless, England deserved the win – a comfortable one. Their first meaningful effort came after 3 minutes. Mihkel Aksalu parried a fine effort from Theo Walcott from the edge of the area. Adam Lallana’s corner picked out England’s captain on the night, Gary Cahill who set up Walcott to volley.

Talented

Despite their superiority England created few clear chances that required Aksalu to excel until a nice move on the left worked the ball to Barkley. Everton’s talented midfielder picked the right option. His pass to set up Walcott nutmegged Karol Mets and the Arsenal winger/striker made no mistake, although there was a hint of off-side seconds before 45 minutes had passed.

Some obdurate depending targeted Lallana. He was tripped from behind by Sergei Zenjov within 5 minutes of the restart. James Milner squared for Lallana whose shot was parried by Aksalu. The keeper made a meal of it, but did well to block Harry Kane’s effort following up.

Barkley demonstrated his talent on 55 minutes to earn a shooting opportunity after his quick feet left two defenders trailing in his wake. He shot just wide.

Twenty minutes later he repeated the trick and shot from the edge of the area. Aksalu parried. Sterling but created a chance for himself, but his shot failed to test Aksalu.

The Final Hurdle

England complete qualification in Vilnius on Monday night. Gary Cahill, James Milner and Joe Hart have been released while Rooney and Carrick are injured. “We have other players I need to see in that game,” Hodgson said. “Gary Cahill has occasional back problems and we were a bit concerned with: A, the flight and B, the artificial pitch. In a choice of taking him or Smalling alongside (Phil) Jagielka and (Phil) Jones, I went for Chris Smalling”.

Hart and Milner will miss out as Hodgson wants to give Stoke City’s Jack Butland and Swansea City’s Jonjo Shelvey an opportunity to show their qualities. “Joe Hart is being left behind against his will, because he wants to play, so we can see Jack Butland”, Hodgson explained to journalists. “James Milner – I wanted to play Jonjo Shelvey in this game, so I don’t need James there, because I’ve got the players to cover”.

As for Rooney and Carrick, they are injured, but their omission appears a precaution after the sorry tale of injury woes for Daniel Sturridge last season. Despite warning from his club Sturridge was not rested and subsequently picked up a persistent injury that wrecked last season for Liverpool and the striker. There’ll be no repetition with the Manchester United pair.

“I’m fully expecting to see both Michael and Wayne Rooney 100 per cent fit for Louis van Gaal next Saturday,” Hodgson said.

Meanwhile, Switzerland secured second place after beating San Marino 7-0. Slovenia could only draw against Lithuania. Estonia has a mathematical chance of a play-off place, but Pehrsson all but conceded that the nine decade wait for qualification to a major tournament would continue.

Estonia and Lithuania still have a very slim mathematical chance – they need miracles. To even have that chance San Marino must beat Slovenia and Switzerland must be beaten by Estonia. Lithuania have a worse chance. They play England on Monday, needing to overturn a 13 goal deficit to Slovenia. The former Yugoslav nation are three points clear of both Baltic nations and have a 9 goal advantage over Estonia.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar October 10, 2015 14:59
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