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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 20 January 2021

Joe Hart comes to England's rescue in Slovenia

Wayne Rooney was the centre of attention on the bench but England’s saviour was their goalkeeper.

Joe Hart makes a save for England.
Joe Hart makes a save for England.
Image: Darko Bandic

GARETH SOUTHGATE’S DECISION to drop much-maligned captain Wayne Rooney did little to improve England as an attacking force as they relied on Joe Hart to secure a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw in Slovenia.

Rooney’s ineffective display in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Malta was the latest in a long string of underwhelming showings and ultimately brought about his omission from the starting XI, but England were not much better in his absence, with Hart rescuing them several times.

Eric Dier, Rooney’s replacement on the day, almost single-handedly inspired an opening goal for Slovenia early on, as his poor back pass resulted in Jasmin Kurtic striking the post after a good save by Hart.

England gradually took control of possession without looking particularly threatening and had a lucky escape again in the 48th minute – a combination of the excellent Hart and the crossbar denying Kurtic.

Hart also had to spare the blushes of Jordan Henderson — captain in Rooney’s absence — deep into the second half as he ensured England held on for a point, taking their Group F tally to seven from three matches.

Southgate justified his decision to drop Rooney by highlighting the need to add extra bite into the England midfield and that increased intensity brought about their first chance. Dele Alli robbed the hosts of the ball and charged forward before playing Daniel Sturridge into the area, only for the forward’s first touch to give Jan Oblak the chance to palm the ball behind.

England were lucky to escape unscathed in the 10th minute, though. Hart bailed Dier out by rushing out to deny Roman Bezjak after the striker pounced on a weak back pass, but the goalkeeper could only watch a few seconds later as Kurtic struck the post from 20 yards.

Soccer WCup 2018 Slovenia England Wayne Rooney came off the bench for England. Source: Darko Bandic

The visitors did slowly adapt to Slovenia’s forceful pressing and controlled possession for the remainder of the first half. But the closest they went to finding the net was a tame 25-yard Gary Cahill effort that was deflected past the left-hand post.

Slovenia began the second half with renewed focus and had England panicking again within a couple of minutes. A brilliant Josip Ilicic run produced a corner from which Bostjan Cesar forced another set-piece as a result of a fine Hart save.

The Torino goalkeeper was called into action again from the second corner, acrobatically tipping Kurtic’s header on to the crossbar.

Slovenia looked far more purposeful in attack and should have scored 21 minutes from time, but Hart again saved England, as he thwarted Ilicic with a one-on-one stop after Henderson played a poor back pass.

Rooney was introduced from the bench shortly after and saw a controlled 25-yard effort go just wide in the 79th minute, before his Manchester United team-mate Jesse Lingard drew a strong save from Oblak.

But ultimately both goalkeepers were too good to be beaten in a game that Slovenia will likely see as a missed opportunity to claim a surprise victory.

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