By Ryan Moran
- England achieve an unbeaten qualifying campaign with ten wins out of 10.
- Goals from Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and an own goal sealed victory.
- Jagielka captained England for the first time in the absence of Wayne Rooney and Gary Cahill.
VILNIUS, LITHUANIA- England completed a rare feat in qualifying as the Three Lions won their tenth and final group stage game out of ten, with a much changed squad featuring eight changes from the Estonia tie.
In a much changed line up which saw Phil Jagielka captain the England side for the first time, Roy Hodgson’s side needed a win to finish an unbeaten qualifying campaign. Spain and Germany also completed this feat in 2012, one went on to win the World Cup while the other didn’t make it out of their group winning only one game. Being 106 places above Lithuania in the world rankings, a win seemed a routine procedure.
Conditions in Vilnius were one the Three Lions aren’t too accustomed to, an artificial 3G pitch that was watered by the local fire brigade during the day. This meant the ball zipped across the surface and suited the visiting side’s more patient style of play in recent times, keeping the ball on the floor. Early attempts over the top made it very clear the ball was always going to either run out or roll to the goal keeper. Jamie Vardy showed this early on, pushing the ball in front of him to chase, only for the ball to glide across the surface and out for a goal kick.
A mixed first half from England showed both the quality of the players on the fringes of the first team squad and their inexperience on the international stage. Confidence in attack was clear as time after time the 3-1 of Vardy, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harry Kane tried to move the ball quickly to put pressure on the back four of the home side. Lallana was the first to show his desire in attack, beating the full back before crossing for Oxlade-Chamberlain but the goalkeeper read the idea stopping the cross before the ball reached its intended target. This early attacking fizzled out as ten minutes in, the whites build up play was slow, passing to the safe options, being patient in possession keeping the ball well.
Kane took it upon himself to spark life back into a slow game as Lallana’s short pass outside of him found the Tottenham striker who cut in, shooting hard towards the near post needing a save which was provided to force a corner which produced no threat. This energy to force the ball into the attackers showed the inexperience of playing on the surface in particular with both Jonjo Shelvey and Oxlade Chamberlain playing balls in behind the defence to find Kane but the ball just zipped through to the keeper. Lallana showed confidence in the first half, carrying the ball, willing to take players on, drawing players in which gave Kane space on his right to test the goalkeeper at his front post, yet again winning a corner.
In a game expected to be full of attacking for England, defensively Hodgson’s side needed to stay alert. A loose Phil Jagielka pass was nearly pounced on by three Lithuanian players, Ross Barkley beat all three before surging towards the opposition 18 yard box finding Kane again who tested the keeper from outside the box with the parry not falling as far as Vardy.
More possession at the end of the 90 minutes doesn’t get the three points and a goal was needed to secure that 100% record. Step up Everton player Barkley, the midfielder body feinted his marker who slipped allowing time and space for Barkley to release a shot deflected onto the inside of the post giving his side that much needed goal.
20 fans were arrested in Vilnius during the day, this aggression was shown on the pitch as Oxlade Chamberlain played the ball down the line for Lallana to chase before being unfairly barged over by Vytautas Andriuskevicius, nowhere near the ball. The yellows had one meaningful attack of the half as forward Lukas Spalvis’ shot was deflected by Kyle Walker, as Jack Butland was required to make a diving save to keep his side ahead. Kane’s early intent produced a finish only for the goal to be given to the Lithuanian goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis as the weak foot near post shot came back off the post striking Arlauskis on the back and going in. Shelvey had the last shot of the half when Lallana played the ball from the left to Barkley inside of him who then played the ball into the middle on the edge of the box for the onrushing midfielder to drive low towards goal, comfortably saved by the shot stopper.
Early second half chances fell for Kane whose initial shot from Oxlade- Chamberlain’s cross produced a smart save however the rebound was there for the taking, the poor connection allowed the shot to be turned over. The corner that followed nearly gave Barkley his second goal of the night as the midfielder headed into the ground, needing a save which was provided as the score stayed at 2-0. Ten minutes later Oxlade-Chamberlain found space in behind as Walker played the ball through for the Arsenal attacker to hit high into the roof of the net to take the score to 3-0.
Danny Ings replaced Kane and after a long period of passing round the edge of the opposition’s area, the Liverpool forward hit low and hard producing a diving save which needed a clearance by one of the centre backs. In a strange series events both Shelvey and Vardy picked up yellow cards for charging down the set piece taker before the kick was taken, both blocking the ball in the process.
England travel to Alicante for an international friendly on 13th November against Spain as they start their preparations for Euro 2016.
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