England are through to the UEFA EURO 2016 knockout phase as Group B runners-up after being held to a goalless draw by Slovakia, who will be hoping to join them as one of the four best third-placed sides.
Roy Hodgson elected to make six changes to his line-up, but his team began with a clear edge in Saint-Etienne, working openings with relative frequency. And although their efficiency tended to tail off in the final third, England could easily have struck more than once in the opening period.
Starting for the first time in France, Jamie Vardy was Slovakia’s chief tormentor, firing over in the early stages before losing out to Matúš Kozáčik in a one-on-one after racing clear on to a lofted pass. The Slovakia goalkeeper also had to parry a stinging effort from Adam Lallana following one of several Nathaniel Clyne forays down the right.
The Liverpool full-back nearly scored himself after the restart, bursting on to Daniel Sturridge’s through ball only to have his shot bounce off Kozáčik’s shoulder. Moments later, Vladimír Weiss tested Joe Hart at his near post, but the introduction of Wayne Rooney and Dele Alli helped England settle again.
The Tottenham man even had an attempt cleared off the line by Martin Škrtel seconds after coming on, yet that was as close as the Three Lions went. Unable once again to turn domination into goals, England thus had to settle for second behind Wales and a 27 June meeting with the Group F runners-up – the kind of certainty Slovakia possibly now crave.
Man of the match: Matúš Kozáčik
Slovakia’s last line of defence was solid and reliable throughout, pulling off a vital save from the onrushing Vardy in the first half and making himself too big an object for Clyne to beat in the second. Overall, he produced five saves and won four aerial balls en route to registering Slovakia’s first clean sheet in a major tournament contest at the seventh attempt.
Hodgson shuffles his pack
Not exactly renowned for a cavalier approach to coaching, Hodgson surprised many by opting to make half a dozen modifications to his starting XI – England’s biggest turnover in personnel at a UEFA European Championship finals since 1980. Some feared a rupture in momentum in a potentially hazardous fixture, but while Jack Wilshere certainly looked some way off his best – and Rooney and Alli helped England recover their poise in the second half – Clyne and Vardy certainly caught the eye. Goals, though, remain a problem.
After his goal and assist against Russia, Marek Hamšík was billed as Slovakia’s danger man here. As it transpired, he – and his team-mates – struggled to offer much in the way of an attacking menace. Eric Dier undertook an excellent shielding job in middle and the Napoli favourite rarely got a touch of the ball in dangerous areas, while Clyne mostly won his battle with the speedy Weiss out wide.