England’s win against Slovenia sealed qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals, but another lacklustre display suggests Gareth Southgate’s men will be there to make up the numbers.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at five reasons to be cheerful and five to be fearful when England head to Russia next summer to take on the world’s best.
Cheerful – Iceland might not make it
England slumped to one of their darkest hours when humbled by Iceland at Euro 2016 and the thought of a rematch in Russia is too much to bear.
Iceland have continued to punch above their weight and currently lie second in qualifying Group I behind Croatia.
But Turkey can overhaul them if they win their encounter in Eskisehir on Friday night and if Iceland fail to qualify that would give England one less thing to worry about.
Fearful – Iceland might make it
Should Iceland lose in Turkey it would be a big blow to their qualification chances, but if they avoid defeat they are still in the box-seat for the play-offs.
Iceland would need to lose against Kosovo at home in their last match, while Turkey would need to win in Finland to pip them.
Depending on Iceland’s result in Turkey on Friday night, they could still make it to Russia where they would be gunning for another crack at England.
Cheerful – Harry Kane
It had to be Harry Kane. The talismanic Tottenham striker snatched Southgate’s side the win they needed to secure qualification for Russia 2018.
Kane’s stoppage-time winner against Slovenia at Wembley was his 14th goal in his last nine matches for club and country and as long as he is in the side and in this kind of form, England have half a chance.
However uninspiring, any win is better than a desperate goalless draw and, by maintaining his fine form this season, two-time Premier League golden boot winner Kane ensures Southgate has at least one world-class performer in his squad.
Fearful – no playmaker
England’s two central midfielders, Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier, are very good at what they do – both Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will tell you that – but they lack the creativity needed on the international stage.
Both players are strong and will run all day, but at club level their tireless ‘fetch-and-carry’ attributes are supplemented by the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Christian Eriksen, who do possess the qualities needed to unlock well-organised defences.
Eriksen’s Tottenham team-mate Dele Alli was sorely missed against Slovenia, but question marks remain over whether he has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of Paul Gascoigne, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
Cheerful – Alli the answer
Alli appears to have all the attributes to become England’s answer to France’s Paul Pogba, Spain’s Isco or Germany’s Toni Kroos.
The midfielder shines regularly for Tottenham and when the mood takes him his technique and athleticism is comparable to any playmaker in the Premier League.
Alli has the x-factor England so desperately need. Let’s hope he continues to thrive alongside Kane under Pochettino this season and heads to Russia a bit more mature and on top of his game.
Fearful – the Ox and Sterling running out of chances
With midfield pair Henderson and Dier sitting deep to provide a solid foundation, England must rely on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford to provide the flair to create goalscoring chances.
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling were both insipid again for England against Slovenia and appear to lack the temperament to thrive on the international stage.
They continue to be given Southgate’s full support, but Oxlade-Chamberlain’s confidence always deserts him in an England shirt and, while Sterling started brightly against Slovenia, he is content to drift in and out of the game.
Cheerful – Rashford carries a threat
Rashford is one young England player who does not freeze on the big stage and he was the biggest threat to Slovenia’s dogged defence at Wembley.
The Manchester United forward had a mixed game in terms of his final delivery, but has shown for England he is able to reproduce his club form at international level.
Rashford does not get weighed down by the fear-factor that appears to stifle team-mates Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling and will only get better.
Fearful – indifference
The rows of empty seats at Wembley were indicative of the general feeling of indifference towards this current England side.
Generations of England fans have grown weary of the national team’s boring mediocrity and, even during a game in which qualification to next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia could be guaranteed, the general public were largely uninterested.
Large sections of the Wembley crowd entertained themselves by throwing paper aeroplanes for heaven’s sake. That says it all about England’s current standing in world football.
Cheerful – time for fresh talent to emerge
English football is not short of talented young players and there is time for some of them to emerge and stake their claim.
That will not be easy as they are not getting the chance to play regularly in the Premier League, but Southgate has an abundance of riches to call on if he chooses to be brave.
Lewis Cook, Dominic Solanke, Freddie Woodman and Kyle Walker-Peters have stepped up to England Under-21s after helping the Under-20s to World Cup glory in South Korea in the summer, while Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell, Demarai Gray and Mason Holgate are other names to look out for.
Fearful – Hart in mouth
Joe Hart has enjoyed the full support of Southgate throughout a turbulent time in the goalkeeper’s career, but will he still be England’s number one next summer?
Hart was jettisoned by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola because he lacks the steadfast distribution that the best goalkeepers in the world can offer and he looked jittery again in that department at Wembley.
There is no questioning Hart’s shot-stopping ability – he rescued England against Slovenia with some timely interventions – but playing out from the back, so key to the modern game, continues to be his downfall.
Source: By PA Sport Staff
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