England reaches round of 16 after 0-0 with Slovakia
SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE — England qualified for the round of 16 at the European Championship after being held to a 0-0 draw by Slovakia on a frustrating Monday night for Roy Hodgson's team.
The result meant England was leapfrogged by Wales at the top of the Group B, after Gareth Bale helped his team beat Russia 3-0 in the other Group B match.
England created but failed to take a series of chances against a very defensive Slovakia side that can still reach the knockout stages as one of the four best third-place teams. Slovakia has four points, with England on five and Wales with six.
Slovakia had never kept a clean sheet in six previous games at a major tournament and had lost its three previous matches against England.
"It was disappointing for us tonight. In the three games, we have had the majority of the possession and today we have dominated play from start to finish and we couldn't unlock the door," England defender Gary Cahill said.
England needed a win to be sure of topping its group and avoiding a potentially dangerous opponent in the last 16. Instead, it will meet Group F's runner-up, with a game against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal now a possibility.
Hodgson took a gamble by making six changes and leaving captain Wayne Rooney on the bench. It did not pay off, but his players kept the pressure up throughout the game and managed 30 shots while Slovakia rarely played in England's final third.
"If we had won the game, people would say we didn't miss (the players who were left out) and when we don't, they say the team selection is wrong, I am used to that one," Hodsgon said. "Finishing second is a disappointment but we are still in the last 16 and who is to say the team we will play will be that much stronger. You just don't know, the way we are playing I am not frightened of anybody."
Following good performances in a 2-1 win over Wales, Hodgson started Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge up front, with defender Cahill getting the captain's armband.
Earning first starts at the tournament were Nathaniel Clyne, Ryan Bertrand, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, Sturridge and Vardy, while Slovakia coach Jan Kozak named an unchanged team from its win over Russia.
Wilshere and Lallana looked to have proved Hodgson right with a bright start to the game.
Quickly releasing the ball, Lallana and Wilshere soon set a fast tempo, with England limiting Slovakia to harmless counterattacks.
England first went close in the ninth minute after a scramble in the box when Sturridge could not make the most of Vardy's clever pass and saw his shot blocked by right back Peter Pekarik.
After Lallana sent a shot wide from the edge of the area, Henderson had an angled effort blocked by left-back Tomas Hubocan.
Slovakia's defenders kept their team in the game, while goalkeeper Matus Kozacik made some decisive saves. He first denied Vardy when the Leicester striker was superbly played through by Henderson in the 17th minute, and then blocked Lallana's fine shot in the 33rd.
The pressure continued after the break as chants of "Rooney, Rooney" by the England fans resonated around the stadium.
But England was nearly caught out when Chris Smalling failed to control the ball properly with his chest as he made an attempted back-pass, forcing keeper Joe Hart to scramble to the ball to thwart the danger.
At the other end, Kozacik made another big save to block an angled shot from Clyne on the break, and England fans finally got what they wanted when Rooney came in for Wilshere in the 56th minute.
Hodgson then replaced Lallana with Dele Alli, who had an immediate impact but saw his goal-bound volley cleared off the line by Liverpool and Slovakia defender Martin Skrtel.
England continued to push in vain until the end. Sturridge made way for Harry Kane in the final 15 minutes but the siege of Slovakia's area remained ineffective.
"We knew that England had already secured their qualification and probably would not attack that much, but obviously they have good attacking qualities, they wanted to win," Kozacik said. "We needed at least one point, we managed to do that and hopefully we can go through."
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