England vs Slovenia match report: Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney help Three Lions fight from a goal down to stay top of Group E

England 3 Slovenia 1

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The Independent Football

Hundredth cap celebrations do not always go well. England marked Bobby Moore’s centenary by thrashing Scotland 5-0, but Peter Shilton’s was marred by a Marco van Basten hat-trick that sent England crashing out of Euro’88 with a match to spare.  

Nearly an hour into the European Championship qualifier at Wembley it looked as if Wayne Rooney’s big night would also be spoiled. Unheralded Slovenia had taken a shock lead, though Jordan Henderson’s own goal, and England looked short of the inspiration required to rescue the occasion.

There has been much debate about Rooney’s place in the Pantheon this week, not all of it flattering, but for much of the last decade he has consistently been the man who makes things happen for England and so it was again.

Faced with the ruination of his evening Rooney forced a penalty, and scored it. Within three minutes the game had gone from nil-nil to one-one, but the mood was transformed. Danny Welbeck promptly struck twice in seven minutes as England maintained their 100 per cent Euro 16 qualifying record and ensured Rooney could look back on the evening with pride.

When England’s first centurion, Billy Wright, reached his 100th cap in 1959 he was presented to Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister who was known as Supermac long before Malcolm MacDonald pulled on black-and-white stripes.

The current PM, David Cameron, is otherwise engaged in Australia but it is unlikely, given the public standing of modern politicians, that he would have risked following Macmillian’s example. Wright received only a handshake, Rooney was given a gold cap in a glass case presented by Sir Bobby Charlton who, in 1970, became the second man to 100 caps.

Rooney is presented with his centenary cap ahead of kick-off

If it was a big night for Rooney it was an even bigger one for Nathaniel Clyne who was winning his first cap. When Wright got to 100 Doug Holden made his debut; when Charlton got there Ralph Coates and Brian Kidd won their first. Between them those three won 11 caps, Clyne will hope to do rather better. He made a promising start with Hodgson stating: “he can be delighted with his debut.”

The pitch showed signs of last week’s NFL contest here, not least the remnants of yardage markings and logos. Perhaps it was that which persuaded England to try several Hail Mary passes as they began to attempt to break down a Slovenian defence that sat very deep.

Gradually, and despite Ales Mertelj clattering Adam Lallana and Rooney, England began to look for shorter passing options and the half-chances started to fall. Raheem Sterling, set up by Rooney, dragged a shot wide. Rooney himself volleyed fiercely but inaccurately. Welbeck headed wide after good work by Sterling.

Slovenia took a shock lead when Jordan Henderson headed beyond Joe Hart

In between Slovenia went close themselves, indeed, closer than England had, when Milivoje Novakovic escaped Jagielka to meet a Andraz Kirm corner but could only glance his header into the side netting. Slovenia also came closest to opening the scoring at the other end, Samir Handanovic having to make a sharp save with his foot when Jasmin Kurtic hit a back-pass too firmly.   

Aside from Handanovic, of Internazionale, Srecko Katanec’s men play for second tier European clubs, like Chievo and Partizan Belgrade, or lower, but  as Northern Ireland and others have shown this qualifying campaign, moderate players, when in a determined, well-organised unit,  can make life difficult for their supposed betters.

Slovenia worked worked hard, defended cleverly and kept their shape. They also sought to rile England, hoping to make their hosts lose their focus. Jack Wilshere, in particular, seemed up for a scrap.

England needed to move the ball quicker, and assess their options better. This was underlined when Rooney broke forward, slipped the ball inside to Welbeck, then ran into good space for the return only to be left furious as Welbeck instead blazed a wild shot over. 

Rooney equalises from the penalty spot

That rather summed the first half up for England and there were muted boos at half-time as they headed in for a what was doubtless an firm exhortation from Roy Hodgson to raise their game.

The manager did his bit by shuffling personnel, sending Sterling wide right to stretch Slovenia with his pace, and pushing the quick-footed Lallana behind the strikers. England immediately looked more threatening and, from Rooney’s cross, they finally brought Handanovic into action via Phil Jagielka header.

However, it Slovenia, to the undisguised joy and amazement of their small section of fans, who struck first. Kirm took a free-kick from wide on the left  and Henderson, misjudging the flight, headed it over Hart and in.

Danny Welbeck scuffs in to put the Three Lions into the lead

The goal jolted England into life. More specifically Rooney, determined not to have his celebratory evening wrecked, seized the game. Driving into the box with a dribble that was part-skill, part rolling maul, he was only stopped when Bostjan Cesar clipped his ankles.

Handanovic had saved his last five penalties and got a strong hand to this one, but Rooney had leathered it and would not be denied.  

Before England put the tie to bed they nearly gave it away again, Jagielka gifting Kevin Kampl the ball, but Gary Cahill saved his partner with a block.

That was Slovenia’s last chance of an upset. On 65 minutes Lallana, receiving Sterling’s cross and taking two opponents out of the game with a beautiful turn, brought a fine save from Handanovic with a deflected shot.

The ball rebounded to Welbeck whose mis-hit shot deceived everyone to nestle inside the far post. Welbeck then capped a sweeping move from an increasingly confident England. Lallana released Kieran Gibbs who fed Welbeck, the Arsenal striker played a one-two with Sterling then finished with aplomb.

Welbeck's second was much more impressively worked

And that, apart from silly bookings for Sterling and Jagielka, both of whom Hodgson then substituted, was that.  

England (4-1-2-1-2): Hart; Clyne, Cahill, Jagielka (Smalling, 89), Gibbs; Wilshere; Henderson, Lallana (Milner, 80); Sterling (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 85); Rooney, Welbeck.

Slovenia (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; Bresko, Ilic, Cesar, Struna; Mertelj, Kurtic (Rotman, 75); Birsa (Lazarevic, 63), Kampl, Kirm (Ljubijankic, 78); Novakovic .