Difficult to know where to start for this one: I don’t think any of us were expecting the current situation to be this dire. If we don’t win and the States beat Algeria then we’ll have been knocked out in the group stages for the first time since 1958.
We previewed our game with the Slovenes last year (the original article is here) and not a great deal has changed for them: Robert Koren has since been released by WBA and they have not been allowed to replace striker Nejc Pecnik (broken ankle).
Let’s start with the numbers. We won 2-1 at Wembley last September with a penalty from Frank Lampard and a Jermain Defoe goal before Zlatan Ljubijankic got one back for them six minutes before time. Since then they have only lost once (against Russia in the first leg of the qualification playoff in November) in their last nine games. In that respect, they’re actually doing better than us as we’ve lost twice since beating them: the last qualification game against Ukraine and the defeat in the desert friendly against Brazil.
When I have a punt I normally only look at away form for tournament games and this is where things start getting a little worrying. Over the last 20 games our form is better than theirs, but over the last five games Slovenia have outperformed us and have kept three clean sheets to our…ummm…one. And before you ask, that doesn’t include the game against the Platinum Stars, which sounds like some kind of Swedish pop band from the 1970s than a genuine football team.
That stat alone indicates that there won’t be many goals tomorrow. Under 2.5 according to the bookies, although interestingly the spread betting firms seem to think it might be around 2.6 but that might be to attract people who think this game is going to be a walkover (in the same way as Algeria was). Consecutive England clean sheets aren’t out of the question – the one bright spot so far is the defence – but once again it’s our lack of firepower up front that’s a problem.
As for all the other stuff…Fab and JT might be doing a wonderful job papering over the cracks, but there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s something wrong in the camp. So look out for various ‘inside stories’ being flogged to the tabloids after English interest in the tournament ends (but remember not to buy any featured in the Daily M*il) and enjoy the rather wooden declarations of love and peace while you can because if we go out tomorrow the fallout is going to beÂ absolutely spectacular. The only thing saving us from being a total laughing stock is that France have done that with their usual Gallic flair: in footballing terms we’re playing about as well as Greece, who are currently packing their bags after losing to Argentina.
I’ve had a couple of calls tonight about where I’m going to watch the game and to be honest I don’t know yet…but I’ve not ruled out behind the sofa. I’m also not completely sure if all red is the right choice sartorially (Wales anyone?) and when it comes to making a prediction here I have to be honest and say that I really have no idea what’s going to happen. I know what I’d like to happen, but I’m not prepared to put my money where my mouth is.
The best case scenario is an England win, but realistically speaking – and that takes out recent form into account – we may be looking at a tense game that might not be decided until well into the second half. An early England goal would be nice but wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the right result; it’s possible that an early strike by Slovenia might galvanise England into some kind of action. On the other hand, can we actually play any worse than we already have done?
Still, we’ve been in similar – and worse – situations before and we’ve got out of them. On June 11th 1986 we faced Poland in our last group game needing a win to qualify for the next round. It was a late kick off for those days (kick off was 4pm local time which means about 9pm GMT) and when Gary Lineker scored the third my dad and I made so much noise my mum told us off. Enjoy!