England have drawn 0-0 with Slovakia in Saint-Etienne, setting up a potential quarter-final with the French at the Stade de France. The English dominated possession and territory and had plenty of excellent chances, but in the end the Slovak defence held firm and kept out Roy Hodgson’s men until the final whistle. Hodgson made six changes to the side that beat the Welsh in England’s second game, and the English had a strong early chance when Jamie Vardy’s flick on header nearly found Daniel Sturridge in an excellent scoring position. Peter Pekarik was able to get to the ball, and Matus Kovacik was able to get both hands on the rebound. Vardy had one of the best chances of the game minutes later, as the English striker was able to outrun Martin Skrtel and found himself one-on-one with Kovacik. The Slovak keeper held firm, however, and he made a strong save to keep England at bay again. The combination of Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson on the right edge was causing massive problems for Slovakia and creating plenty of chances, but the teams were still level at the break.
The second half began much the same as the first, and while a defensive error from Chris Smalling could have led to a Slovakian goal the English were still on top. Slovakia were finding more chances, however, and Vladimir Weiss came close when he found the ball in space inside the area. His shot had to be saved by Joe Hart, and it looked as if Slovakia could pose a fair challenge. Then the game was turned on its head. Henderson made a nice run down the right wing, and his ball travelled well across goal, past most of Slovakia’s defence and the English attack. Dele Alli had been on the field for seconds, but he found the ball and was in an excellent position to break the deadlock with no keeper to beat. The shot was taken exquisitely, and it was placed with precision, but Skrtel had reacted and flicked the ball over the bar with the outstep of his left foot. It was an incredible piece of defensive work, and the close call changed Slovakia’s outlook. Dusan Svento had already entered the game, and he was soon joined by two more defenders in Norbert Gyomber and Milan Skriniar. England had shot after shot, but they could not trouble Kozacik with enough of their attempts.
They kept pushing. Sturridge was unable to get his foot to a long ball over the defence from midfield, and Kozacik stretched to claim the bouncing ball. They kept pushing. Gary Cahill attempted to find Harry Kane over the top with a header, but he could not get on to it. They kept pushing. Henderson found Kane inside the box, but the header went wide. They kept pushing, but it wasn’t going to be enough as Slovakia held firm to keep the score at 0-0. The draw confined England to second place after Wales won 3-0 in Toulouse, and they need to look very hard to find some more goals. They play again in a week’s time, so those answers will need to come fast.
Saint-Etienne – Stade Geoffroy-Guichard
Referee: Carlos Vellasco Carballo (Esp)
England (4-3-3): Hart – Clyne, Cahill, Smalling, Bertrand; Henderson, Dier, Wilshere (Rooney 56); Lallana (Alli 61), Vardy, Sturridge (Kane 76).
Slovakia (4-3-3): Kozacik – Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Hubocan; Kucka, Pecovsky (Gyomber 67), Hamsik; Mak, Duda (Svento 57), Weiss (Skriniar 78).
1. Jordan Henderson (England)
Henderson was one of six changes made by Roy Hodgson, and he was very dangerous on the right wing. He created plenty of opportunities with some excellently placed crosses, and the work that he did on the right side of midfield provided the best chances of the game. He combined exceptionally well with Clyne, and will be seriously considered for the knockout stages.
2. Nathaniel Clyne (England)
Clyne dropped off slightly in the second half, but he made a great contribution throughout and created plenty of scoring opportunities with his overlapping runs from right back. He put in some good crosses and even found himself one-on-one with Kozacik, but he was unable to get England the goal they needed. He played well, and should provide good competition for Kyle Walker.
3. Matus Kozacik (Slovakia)
Kozacik had an excellent game in goal, getting into good positions and making some great saves. He beat both Vardy and Clyne one-on-one due to excellent positioning, and he was able to come off his line well to claim the ball on multiple occasions. He had a strong game, and was the main reason that Slovakia were able to keep the game at 0-0.
4. Jamie Vardy (England)
Vardy was picked in the starting line-up after a strong second half performance against Wales, and he picked up where he left off against Slovakia. He created plenty of chances with his pace and his ability to get in behind the defence, and he was a serious threat for the Slovakians. He showed his pace early when he beat Skrtel to the ball in a dangerous position, and he played a strong game.
5. Martin Skrtel (Slovakia)
Skrtel was a rock at the centre of the Slovakian defence, and they would not have come away with a draw if it was not for his brilliant goalmouth save. He provided plenty of experience and brought calmness to the Slovak side, and he showed plenty of leadership in continuing to ward off the English. He played well and will be a steadying presence if Slovakia progress.