England seek Slovenia boost

2015-06-13 10:32
Wayne Rooney is on course to be England's leading goalscorer (Supplied)

Watford - Stung by recent criticism, England hope to end the season with victory and a rousing performance when they tackle Slovenia in Ljubljana on Sunday in a 2016 European Championship qualifier.

With five straight wins behind them and a six-point lead over Slovenia and Switzerland in Group E, England already have one foot in next year's tournament in France and are bidding to finish a season unbeaten for the first time in 24 years.

Roy Hodgson's men were lambasted for an insipid display in last weekend's 0-0 friendly draw with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin, but midfielder Jack Wilshere feels the outing did England a world of good.

"We don't take any notice of it (the criticism)," he told reporters at England's team hotel in Watford, north of London, this week.

"I said after the game that we needed the game and a few of the players had not played since the last game of the season. They had been away with their families, and they deserved to -- they played 40, 50 games.

"So they deserved that week to switch off. Then we came back on Tuesday. We trained a few days and training went well, but we always felt we needed a game.

"You can't get to the levels in training that you do in a game. We felt like we needed that game and we would be ready for the big one in Slovenia."

Slovenia took a 1-0 lead courtesy of a Jordan Henderson own goal when the teams met at Wembley last November - the only goal England have conceded in the qualifying campaign to date - but a Wayne Rooney penalty and a Danny Welbeck brace saw the hosts to a 3-1 win.

Arsenal forward Welbeck is currently sidelined due to a knee injury and with Daniel Sturridge also injured and Harry Kane, Saido Berahino and Danny Ings on duty with England's under-21s, Hodgson's attacking options are diminished.

Skipper Rooney, still two goals shy of Bobby Charlton's all-time England record of 49, is certain to start, but Liverpool pair Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling could lose their places after ineffective turns at the Aviva Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur winger Andros Townsend and Arsenal's Theo Walcott, who ended the season with a flurry of goals, are among the players vying for a starting place, while Queens Park Rangers striker Charlie Austin will hope to make his debut after spending the game in Dublin on the bench.

Slovenia crushed San Marino 6-0 on their last outing at Stadion Stozice in March, leaving them neck-and-neck with Switzerland in a likely battle for the group's second automatic qualifying berth behind England.

Right-back Petar Stojanovic and experienced striker Zlatan Ljubijankic, who scored against England in a Wembley friendly six years ago, are both out, but coach Srecko Katanec has an otherwise fully-fit squad.

"We all know who we are playing against," centre-back Branko Ilic told the Football Association of Slovenia's website.

"Even though there is no Welbeck, we will have to be focused, as they have other players who can take chances.

"Rooney is one of England's best players and Wilshere will also be dangerous. We will have to pay attention to everything.

"We didn't play well in England, but we scored the opening goal. We conceded from our own mistakes, but it's true that it's more difficult to play at Wembley.

"Now we will play at home, we will be able to press their back line more and stop them playing. We will also have to keep possession, which we failed to do in England."

Ranked 48th in the world, Slovenia are bidding to qualify for their first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they were eliminated in the group stage after a 1-0 loss to England.

Read more on:    euro 2016  |  wayne rooney  |  jack wilshere  |  soccer

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