Harry Kane’s injury-time goal guaranteed England’s place at the 2018 World Cup, the Tottenham striker earning a 1-0 home win against Slovenia on Thursday.
Gareth Southgate’s side were already virtually assured of their place in Russia due to a five-point cushion and made certain of their progress thanks to Kane’s late impact.
The in-form striker had been quiet throughout a listless Three Lions performance but nudged home Kyle Walker’s low cross to break the deadlock in the third minute of added time.
In a largely turgid affair, England missed the suspended Dele Alli and the injured Jamie Vardy’s ability to move defenders around, with Slovenia happy to sit deep and soak up pressure.
Slovenia held England to a 0-0 draw at home earlier in the group and they appeared set to do so again with few problems, Jan Oblak making relatively straightforward saves from Kane, Jordan Henderson and the lively Marcus Rashford.
But there was nothing Oblak could do about Kane’s late winner, the cross from former Spurs team-mate Walker perfect for him to tap in his 14th goal of the season for club and country.
— England (@England) October 5, 2017
Although England started reasonably well, they were perhaps lucky not to concede a penalty after nine minutes when goalkeeper Joe Hart appeared to catch Josip Ilicic near the byline.
Kane scored 13 goals for club and country in September and had been given the captain’s armband by Southgate, but his first effort was easily dealt with by Oblak, before Andraz Sporar fired at Hart at the other end.
Oblak was stretched for the first time after 25 minutes, the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper tipping Henderson’s low curler around his left-hand post after England cleverly worked a short free-kick.
England had the ball in the net shortly before half-time thanks to Kane’s header, but Raheem Sterling was penalised for a foul and the goal was disallowed by referee Felix Zwayer.
The ponderous play from the hosts did not improve after the interval, with sloppy passes regularly giving away possession, although Slovenia offered nothing on the ball themselves.
When England did break threateningly after 61 minutes, Rashford’s decision to cutely chip Oblak was the wrong choice and Rajko Rotman had time to get back and clear, Bostjan Cesar then making a fine block to deny Sterling.
Southgate’s men had scored late goals throughout the campaign and although there appeared little sign of one coming, they struck in stoppage-time.
Oblak threw the ball to Walker in his haste to launch a counter-attack and the Manchester City full-back broke at speed, putting a fine centre on a plate for Kane to tuck in from close range.
England will wrap up their campaign in Vilnius against Lithuania on Sunday, while Slovenia host a resurgent Scotland in the battle for second place.
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