By Kimberley Swift
- Wales top group with win while England remain in second place
- Slovakia seal third-place finish with stalwart defensive display
SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE – England finished second in Group B after their final group stage match ended frustratingly goalless against Slovakia.
The Three Lions failed to break through a rock-solid Slovakian defence despite dominating most of the game.
Roy Hodgson made six changes to the line-up, including answering the many calls to start Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge.
While the pressure from the English team was relentless from the opening kick, however, the finishing was nowhere to be seen. Much of that came down to the impenetrable wall formed by the opposition.
Substitute Dele Alli came closest to scoring in the second half, only to see his shot skewed off the line by Martin Škrtel. The Slovakian skipper was excellent throughout, leading his team expertly as they faced down the English attack.
It was an immensely creative but frustrating night for Hodgson’s side, and an excellent example of the patience game not quite paying off.
While Wales were wiping the pitch with their Russian opponents in Toulouse, England spent 90 minutes grinding it out with no reward.
Much as he had in the second group game against Wales, Hodgson tried to shake things up in the second half. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane both came off the substitute bench but were unable to effect any real change.
With 10 minutes remaining even their supporters’ chants were beginning to sound tired.
Meanwhile Slovakia seemed content to sit back and accept a third place group finish. There were moments of danger from Ján Kozák’s side but their focus was clearly on not conceding.
Despite being safely through to the last 16, English supporters will come away with that ageless sense of dissatisfaction with their team’s display.
It was not, however, a poor performance. England created 30 chances on goal, 10 on target, and may conversely find the breakthrough against more offensive-minded opposition later in the competition.
The Lions go on to face the second-placed team in Group F in the knockout stages on Monday. That could be any of Portugal, who have been less than convincing in the competition thus far, Austria, Hungary or Iceland.
Group F remains wide open, with their final group stage matches to be played out on Wednesday.
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