England 0-0 Slovenia: Gareth Southgate's Three Lions frustrate once again

England top Group C despite another underwhelming performance against Slovenia in Cologne

England 0-0 Slovenia: Gareth Southgate's Three Lions frustrate once again

England and Slovenia both qualified for the knockout stages after their goalless draw in Cologne on Tuesday evening. CREDIT: @layhy29

Another underwhelming performance from Gareth Southgate’s England side led to a number of travelling supporters booing the side at the final whistle.

After a sweltering evening in Cologne the only cheers you could hear at the end of 90 minutes was the Slovenia fans celebrating also qualifying – in third, behind Denmark, after Serbia failed to beat the Scandinavians in the other match in Group C.

Despite England already qualifying for the knock-out round thanks to Spain’s second string eased past Albania in Dusseldorf on Friday evening, more was expected than a frustrating goalless draw against their opponents ranked a lowly 57th in the world – even if they kicked-off unbeaten in their last eight matches, including creditable draws against Denmark and Serbia in this tournament.

Prior to the start coach Matjaž Kek’s side had only failed to score in one of their last 22 international matches, with his team losing only two of their last 16 competitive matches - but started the clash without a win in their five games in the European Championships.

On a sweltering evening in Cologne it was all to play for – especially withAustria topping their group after beating Netherlands 3-2 earlier in the afternoon, leaving France to finish second after their 1-1 draw vs Poland. You couldn’t help pondering on the dawning realisation that one half of the Euro 2024 draw featured the heavyweights of France, Spain, Portugal and Germany. With England in the other half of the draw.

However, as long-suffering England fans know, games aren’t won on paper. Not least when early Slovenia’s summer target for Premier League clubs Benjamin Sesko should have done better with a headed chance, moments after a booming rendition of God Save the King from three quarters of the stadium.

Southgate made one change from the insipid draw against the Danes in Frankfurt, Conor Gallagher replacing Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Chelsea midfielder becoming Declan Rice’s third defensive partner in the last four matches.

Gallahger’s energy was apparent, attempting to influence early proceedings with the most impressive scurrying. Albeit to scant discernible effect as Kek’s side dominated the opening stages, bar VAR correctly disallowing Bukayo Saka’s tap-in for offside earlier in the move. 

As the sun dropped and the intense temperatures of the day cooled somewhat, England probed forward, prompted by the increasingly redoubtable centre-back pairing of John Stones and Marc Guehi – who for this correspondent has been the side’s most impressive performer so far in Germany.

On the half hour mark the hitherto anonymous Harry Kane fired off a low shot that Slovenia’s keeper Jan Oblak gathered. Moments later the Atletico Madrid shotstopper kept out Foden’s flighted free-kick, as Southgate’s side searched for an opener.

Along a crowded left flank, the right-footed Kieran Trippier cut inside to unleash a low, curling shot six minutes before the interval but the team couldn’t find a breakthrough.

With England’s nearly-fit left-back Luke Shaw on the bench, the thought occurred that Southgate’s mix and match along the left channel might be, mercifully, nearing an end.

Another uninspiring experiment that ended was Gallagher next to Rice, which was called to an abrupt halt after only 45 minutes – with Southgate swapping Gallagher for Manchester United teenage starlet Kobbie Mainoo at half time.

Despite their underwhelming appearance as a defensive pair during England’s’ 1-0 loss to Iceland at Wembley at the end of May, Southgate’s intention for Mainoo to dovetail with Rice - in a bid to play between the lines with the Arsenal man in a slightly more advanced role – was full of positive intentions.

Even if it was rather perplexing that Southgate should still be tinkering with such a vital position three matches into this tournament.  

As the England fans massed behind the goal boomed out ‘The Great Escape’ it was Crystal Palace defender Guehi who had an escape of his own, when he grabbed Slovenia forward Andraz Sporar, deservedly earning a yellow card from French referee Clement Turpin, who it had to be said had an excellent game as the man in black, or luminous yellow.

The fans cheered still further when Cole Palmer came on for a tiring Saka. The roof would have come off this atmospheric stadium if Rice’s shot had gone in on 75 minutes. As it would have done had Cole’s late effort not been gathered by Oblak after a sweeping move.

As the clock ticked down, England sealed top spot with five points, a place ahead of Denmark in second, and Slovenia a spot behind, who also qualify as one of the best third place sides.

Yet, as ever, magnificent fans have been left frustrated at their team’s efforts on the pitch.

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