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World Cup Qualifier Preview – Slovakia vs. England

The reaction to Sam Allardyce’s first England squad has been relatively muted, with England fans cowed by a glum atmosphere of post tournament indifference. The squad is broadly as expected, with Ross Barkley the only notable absentee and Michael Antonio the sole uncapped entrance into the England set up for this Sunday’s World Cup Qualifier against Slovakia.

Wayne Rooney has been selected to continue as captain of the national side by Allardyce. Whether or not to play Rooney is the Lampard/Gerrard debate equivalent for today’s England supporter, and the forward has registered his intention to continue as the Three Lion’s number ten until the end of the 2018 World Cup campaign. It is doubtful that Rooney will be a starter for England come the opening exchanges of that tournament, given the rapid rise of Dele Alli and hopeful return of Ross Barkley, but the lack of realistic alternatives for the England armband is certainly a worrying one.

Allardyce has busied himself identifying the weaknesses in the England squad, with the selection of Antonio in all likelihood a response to the damaging lack of wide players in Roy Hodgson’s squad for the European Championships. With Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker also among the 23 selected by the former West Ham manager, Allardyce can be expected to steer clear of his successor in Hammers job, Slaven Bilic’s, perplexing folly in deploying Antonio at right back.

“Big Sam” has also expressed a desire to target foreign-born players for England duty, with Frenchman Steven N’Zonzi the first name to be publicly linked with such a move. England have suffered from a lack of options in defensive midfield, with Eric Dier one of few English faces to leave the European Championships with his reputation intact, and a player in the mould of N’Zonzi would certainly not go amiss to provide some back up to the Tottenham player.

England are away to Slovakia in their first qualifier for the 2018 World Cup, a side they drew 0-0 in the kind of turgid encounter that typified the side under Roy Hodgson in major tournaments, Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere in midfield at times playing as though they were wading through treacle. However, they are heavy favourites to right a few wrongs in the opening encounter of Allardyce’s reign at the City Arena in Trnava. The Three Lions come at a best price of 21/20 from Sky Bet and Betway to claim the win, while Slovakia are 3/1 with most bookmakers to emerge victorious on home turf.

Harry Kane has yet to really get going for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, but best odds for the forward to score at any time, courtesy of Betfair, are worth a look should he have packed his shooting boots. Marek Hamsik is Slovakia’s obvious danger man, a midfielder with flair aplenty and an eye for goal. Creative fulcrum for club Napoli, Hamsik is 7/2 with Paddy Power to find the back of the net at any time this Sunday.

John Stones has been warned he must cut out his mistakes if he is to thrive at international level, but Allardyce clearly believes the Man City defender can be a key cog in his mission to revive the national side. Paired with Chris Smalling, along with Clyne and Shaw on either side, England could lay claim to a formidable back four, at least on paper, and they are 2/1 with Sportingbet to win to nil.

Tom Lewis
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