Belfast Telegraph

Roy Hodgson's gamble fails and England now have France and Germany in their path

England 0 Slovakia 0

By Mark Ogden

All roads still lead to Paris for England, but the route to the final has now become so much more perilous after Roy Hodgson's selection gamble backfired and set his team on course for a potential quarter-final meeting with France after Slovakia refused to buckle.

Six changes to his starting line-up was a bold move by the England manager, but it failed to pay off.

England dominated throughout, but their failure to win ensures they progress to the knock-out stage only as runners-up in Group B.

A clash with the Group F runners-up in Nice now lies ahead next Monday. Win that and it will most likely be the hosts at the Stade de France in the quarter-finals. And then the Germans in the semi-finals.

The cost of failure here at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard, the scene of England's 1998 World Cup defeat against Argentina, looks set to be a heavy one.

And having made such wholesale changes to his starting line-up Hodgson knew that only another victory against the Slovaks would prevent criticism of his selection. However, this was not a team of novices, so Hodgson was justified in having faith in the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne to perform.

England started well, with Jamie Vardy flashing a left foot volley from Clyne's cross across the face of the Slovakia goal inside the opening five minutes. And aside from a Viktor Pecovsky effort moments later, which flew high and wide from 30 yards, England kept Slovakia pinned back inside their own half.

Jordan Henderson, selected ahead of the rested Dele Alli, drove the England midfield with Wilshere struggling to make an impact.

Adam Lallana, who has started all three games so far, was also having an impact and the Liverpool midfielder sparked the move which led to Daniel Sturridge having a close range shot blocked by Peter Pekarik, who was later forced to undergo lengthy treatment after having his nose broken by Bertrand's flailing elbow.

Lallana was England's biggest threat in the early stages, with one shot fired wide from Vardy's pass before the pair teed up Henderson to have a shot blocked.

Slovakia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik then produced two fine saves to keep his team level - denying Vardy with his legs before producing another block from Lallana.

England were knocking on the door, but a combination of dogged Slovakian defending and the unfortunate bounce of the ball kept them searching for the breakthrough as they went in level at the interval.

Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, was watching from the stands alongside Prince William just 24 hours after suggesting that only reaching the semi-finals would be enough guarantee Hodgson's future as manager.

This was not the performance an England team heading for the last four. The effort was there, but the quality - the crucial element at this level - continued to prove elusive.

A mix-up between Chris Smalling and Joe Hart, which almost let in Robert Mak to put Slovakia ahead highlighted the threat posed by a team who were growing into the game.

Eleven minutes into the second-half, Wilshere made way for Rooney. The Arsenal midfielder is a favourite of Hodgson's, but his inability to influence this game highlighted his lack of match sharpness after missing almost the entire Premier League season through injury.

England certainly looked more threatening with Rooney on and Alli, who replaced Lallana, was inches away from scoring on 61 minutes when his effort from Henderson's cross was cleared off the line by Martin Skrtel, but they never really looked like breaking the deadlock.

Belfast Telegraph