England – (4-4-2) Green – Johnson, Terry, Upson (Lescott 64), A. Cole – Wright-Phillips (Lennon 46), Lampard, Barry (Carrick 46), Gerrard (Milner 46) – Rooney (C. Cole 80), Heskey (Defoe 46)
Slovenia – (4-4-2) Handanovic – Cesar (Mavric 34), Brecko, Jokic, Suler – Radosavljevic (Krhin 77), Koren, Kirm (Stevanovic 78), Dedic (Peknik 71) – Novakovic (Ljubijankic 55), Birsa (Komac 65)
This was a fixture that was thought by many to be of no significance as it is so close to the all important World Cup qualifiers for both teams. Yet by the end of this so called ‘pointless’ exercise, questions were answered with regards to the team on a whole. It was almost understated that this was the first time both teams have met. Slovenia were to visit the new Wembley having never had the opportunity to play in the old one. The Slovenians have a reputation of being a cohesive unit who know their way around a pitch, so they are by no means minnows of the game. Yet with the form England have been in they would be forgiven for going into the game full of confidence.
England went into this game looking to eradicate the mistakes of the previous friendly against Holland, which saw some careless play punished against one of the top teams in the world. For most England fans they would’ve wanted a few questions answered regarding the current team. The first of these questions – who is the real England no.1? Also, how long has Emile Heskey got left before he is replaced with a more productive striker? Who plays in place of Rio Ferdinand? The last question on the tip of the tongues of fans is, will Defoe start games alongside Rooney? These questions were more or less answered at the reading of the team sheet. Robert Green is currently in possession of the no. 1 jersey but Fabio Capello does not wish to single out an individual for this role just yet, meaning in theory it is still to play for. Heskey started yet another game alongside Rooney meaning that at least for now the boss is happy to play Heskey for the sake of team balance, while Matthew Upson seems to have cemented third choice in the central defensive unit. Finally, for the moment, the Defoe/Rooney partnership is still at formula level. It has become clear that Capello has a favoured XI at present but there are still opportunities for others to force their way into contention before South Africa. The first XI in full read like this:
Johnson – Terry – Upson – Cole
Wright-Phillips – Barry – Lampard – Gerrard
Rooney – Heskey
Slovenia came to Wembley looking to prove they were a team that commands respect even among the big guns. They have provided upsets in the past against the likes of Italy and Romania which proves their credentials. They have also appeared at the European Championships and the World Cup. Slovenia are currently lying fourth in their qualification group and this fixture could be looked at as a confidence-booster as they looked to force their way into play-off contention. Robert Koren, who is captain of the team, will be known to England fans as he ply’s his trade in England with West Brom. Slovenia are a competent team who play as a unit, it is a team which has a good mix of experience and youth and they normally look to play a passing game and use their pace in the final third to gain an advantage. They are in ways similar to the Croatian team. With nothing expected of them from neutrals and fans, they only had a point to prove to themselves. Here is what their first XI looked like:
Radosavljevic – Cesar – Brecko – Jokic
Novakovic – Dedic – Koren – Kirm
Suler – Birsa
Overall the first half offered little entertainment but started with Slovenia showing their potential by moving the ball well and utilising space on the pitch intelligently. Yet one of the talking points was early on when Robert Green caught the ball outside the box – which went unseen by the officials – but something that will surely be pointed out to Capello later. Green was forced to make a partial save later on in the half when Slovenia were through on goal which will work in his favour. A bizarre penalty was given when Rooney was allegedly impeded by a Slovenia player in the box although replays suggest it should have been a foul in the other direction. Frank Lampard stepped up and put it away convincingly. The Three Lions went into the break ahead by a single goal but it could have been more as Terry and Rooney both hit the woodwork and Steven Gerrard went close.
The second half saw both managers change up the personnel and for England it was a chance for the fringe players to press a case for further caps. The players brought on included, James Milner, Defoe, Aaron Lennon, Michael Carrick and Joleon Lescott. Later Carlton Cole also got some minutes under his belt. The players that came on in the second half certainly had an effect on the game and all acquitted themselves well. However, none more so than Defoe who has continued his streaky run of form for England by netting from just outside the box. He was assisted by Lennon and a slight deflection from a Slovenia player. Yet even though England seemed comfortable and cruising to victory another lack of concentration from England allowed Slovenia to net a consolation goal. Glen Johnson was mostly to blame as he was positioned badly which allowed the cross to come in from the left for Slovenia with a well taken header glanced past a helpless Green at the near post. This was a match that proves England can remain superior against all kinds of teams but if they are to lift a major trophy the defence has to become water tight against all opponents consistently.