REUTERS: Marcus Rashford’s superb second-half strike earned England a 2-1 comeback victory over Slovakia on Monday that put them on the verge of qualification for next year’s World Cup finals.
An evening that began worryingly for the young Manchester United striker when his sloppy mistake allowed Stanislav Lobotka to fire Slovakia into a shock lead ended with the crowd singing his name as he sparked England’s revival.
Rashford’s first international goal came on his debut in a friendly against Australia last May, but his second was of far greater importance as it put England five points ahead of Slovakia at the top of Group F with two games remaining.
The 19-year-old’s corner was turned in by Eric Dier for England’s equaliser towards the end of a torrid first half for Gareth Southgate’s side. Rashford completed the job when he rifled in a 59th-minute winner. Once again it was a patchy display by England but victory over Slovenia at Wembley next month will mean they can begin booking hotels in Russia.
“We started poorly and I am happy to get a goal that kickstarted the game for us. We were in control for most of the game then,” Dier said.
“We weren’t aggressive enough and were two seconds behind them in every pass. The way we turned it around was positive.”
The expanse of empty red seats in Wembley’s upper tiers spoke volumes for the lowered expectations around the England team these days after a succession of major tournament flops.
Even those eternal optimists amongst the 67,000 present must have feared the worst after a woeful opening by the hosts. The game was only three minutes old when Rashford, preferred to Raheem Sterling after replacing him during Friday’s flattering 4-0 win in Malta, gifted possession to Adam Nemec who played in Lobotka to poke the ball past the advancing Joe Hart.
It was the fastest goal conceded by England in a competitive match since San Marino’s goal in 1993.
Wembley was stunned and England were rattled as their 17-match winning sequence in World Cup qualifiers looked in peril.
England’s attacks were panicky and sporadic, summed up by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hopeless hoof over the bar which brought howls of derision from the crowd.
Had Slovakia reached halftime ahead it would have become a nervous night for the hosts, but they were level in the 37th minute after finally exerting some sustained pressure.
Rashford’s corner was poorly struck but Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dier showed a striker’s instinct to get ahead of his marker and sweep a right-footed shot past Martin Dubravka.
Minutes later Rashford forced a great save from Dubravka with a powerful low shot from distance, although England were fortunate on the stroke of halftime when Vladimir Weiss burst through on goal before tumbling under a desperate tackle from Kyle Walker that went unpunished.
There were scares in the second half for the hosts too with Nemec forcing a fine reflex save from Hart.
But there was more cohesion from the hosts and with Rashford causing havoc they deservedly took the lead.
Skipper Jordan Henderson won the ball in middle of the pitch and played the ball to Rashford and as Slovakia’s defence backed off he belted a 25-metre effort past the despairing dive of Dubravka to the relief of the Wembley crowd.
England could not find the third goal that would have killed off the visitors but they did enough to earn three vital points.
Germany on brink of World Cup after Norway demolition
REUTERS: World champions Germany thrashed Norway 6-0 in their Group C match on Monday, scoring four times in the first half including a Timo Werner double, to edge closer to a place at next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The Germans killed off the game in a whirlwind first half, scoring three times in the opening 21 minutes, and can wrap up qualification away to second-placed Northern Ireland, who beat the Czech Republic 2-0, on Oct. 5.
Four-time world champions Germany, who also scored through Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka and Mario Gomez, need a point from their last two games – in Belfast and three days later at home to Azerbaijan – to book their ticket to Russia.
The Irish are five points behind the Germans, who have a maximum 24. The group winners qualify directly for the finals while the eight best second-placed teams in the nine groups go into a playoff round.
It was one-way traffic from the start as Germany wanted to put last week’s scrappy 2-1 win in the Czech Republic behind them and Ozil’s 10th minute shot opened the floodgates.
“After the Czech game we said we wanted to bring a different spirit into the team, a different approach,” said Coach Joachim Loew, whose team have so far enjoyed their best ever World Cup qualifying campaign with eight wins, having conceded two goals.
“Especially in the last third of the pitch we wanted to find the spaces and play into them. When you do that then you create chances and we did that,” he added.
Seconds after Germany took the lead Toni Kroos should have doubled it but he fired over the bar. Draxler, however, made no mistake with a fine turn and low drive in the 17th during a frantic opening spell.
Werner, who was booed by a small group of German fans during the game in Prague on Friday, made it 3-0 four minutes later with the Norwegians in a daze and the Stuttgart native grabbed his sixth goal in his eighth international as he headed in a cross five minutes before the break.
Goretzka headed home Draxler’s cross in the 50th and fellow substitute Gomez had time to get on the scoresheet himself with yet another header to cap a dominant performance by the hosts.
Germany have now won 26 of their last 31 World Cup qualifiers, having drawn the other five.