Verdict: England win
Best Odds: 1/3
Club football takes a break this week as the World Cup qualifiers return in full force. Some sides have already secured their place at the competition in Russia next summer, while other groups are incredibly tight meaning that things will go right down to the wire. Two more games beckon for the teams in Group F, with England and Slovenia locking horns yet again.
England have recovered from losing Sam Allardyce earlier in the campaign to steer themselves to the cusp of World Cup qualification. The Three Lions currently sit on 20 points from their eight games, five clear of second place Slovenia, whom they beat last time around. It means that a win tonight would assure them of qualification at the top of the group, thus securing their place in Russia next year. Gareth Southgate’s side have been in stuttering form despite sitting at the top of their group as they almost lost to Slovakia at Wembley after going a goal down early on in their last game. They did recover, but an early goal from Slovenia would really put the cat amongst the pigeons on Thursday. However, if the Three Lions do lose against Slovenia, then they have a game against second from bottom Lithuania to fall back on, but Southgate will want to make sure their passage to the World Cup is assured on Thursday evening, meaning he can give some of the more peripheral players time on the pitch.
Fabian Delph and Phil Jones were forced to withdraw from the squad this week meaning Tottenham youngster Harry Winks received a call-up, while Dele Alli will be unavailable as he serves his one-match ban for an offensive gesture he made in England’s 2-1 win over Slovakia in September.
Slovenia’s fate still hangs very much in the balance. They currently sit in third place in Group F with 14 points, just one behind Slovakia, while they are ahead of Scotland by virtue of their superior goal difference. While top spot is almost certainly out of reach, they can still battle for a best runner-up place, meaning there is still a lot to play for. In their current qualifying campaign, Slovenia have won four games, drawn two and lost two, while their last game was a 4-0 thrashing of Lithuania to keep things interesting in Group F. What will give the visitors hope is the fact that they claimed a superb point against England back in October in a 0-0 draw in which they actually had the better of the chances. While this was likely because of the turmoil the Three Lions were going through at the time because of their management, Slovenia will be confident and will not need any more motivation than a further three points to really put the pressure on Slovakia going into the final game of the qualifiers.
Slovenia head into the game with a full squad as they look to turn over their much-fancied hosts. Importantly, Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak is likely to start between the sticks.
Key Factors to Consider
England have won their last two games, scoring six and conceding one.
The Three Lions have won six of their eight qualifying games and are yet to lose.
Slovenia held England to a 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture.
The visitors can still snatch a best runners-up spot and a win would put massive pressure on second-placed Slovakia.
England have conceded just three goals in eight games, the least in the group.
While Slovenia are likely to go in all guns blazing on Thursday, their hosts have been improving with each passing game and are looking far better than their last meeting in October. While England are likely to miss Dele Alli, the Three Lions have enough talented players to see themselves through to a place in Russia.
Verdict: England win
Best Odds: 1/3
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