Oct 5, 2017 at 7.45pm UK at ​Wembley Stadium
Attendance: 61,598
Kane (94')
Stones (45')
FT(HT: 0-0)

Krhin (38'), Mevlja (45'), Rotman (51'), Struna (86'), Birsa (96')

Preview: England vs. Slovenia

Sports Mole previews England's crucial World Cup qualifier against Slovenia, with the Three Lions just one win away from booking their place at Russia 2018.

England have the chance to book their place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia with one game to spare when they host Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday night.

Gareth Southgate's side need just two points from their remaining two games to secure an automatic spot in next summer's tournament, boasting a five-point lead over second-placed Slovakia in Group F.


Interim England manager Gareth Southgate on the touchline during the international friendly with Spain at Wembley on November 15, 2016© SilverHub

England are within touching distance of the World Cup finals heading into the last double-header of their qualifying campaign, with wins over Malta and Slovakia in September sending Southgate's side to the brink of the tournament.

Failure to qualify automatically from this position is almost unthinkable, with only two points needed from matches against Slovenia and Lithuania to hold off the challenge of the chasing pack.

Belgium are the only European team to have booked their ticket so far - with the exception of hosts Russia - and England can now begin to look forward to banishing their demons of the past two major international tournaments.

Whether they are able to do that remains to be seen, but there is certainly a lot of work still to do. The Three Lions have cruised through qualifying unbeaten so far, but they have fallen short in the glamour friendlies against the teams most likely to stand in their way in the latter stages of Russia 2018.

Germany and France have both beaten England this calendar year, while they were also held at home by Spain in a match that saw them two goals ahead going into the dying stages.

It would be fitting for England to reach the World Cup in a week which has seen former World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton honoured with a training pitch at St George's Park named after him, and the former record goalscorer may be witnessing a future record goalscorer in the shape of Harry Kane at the moment.

The Tottenham Hotspur striker has arguably elevated himself to world-class status with an incredible September, scoring 13 goals for club and country to reach a tally only previously set by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in a single calendar month.

Worryingly for opponents, history suggests that Kane's goalscoring rate will only improve as the season progresses too. Before the current campaign, September was his second lowest-scoring month for goals behind only the notoriously barren August, with just three goals in eight previous Premier League appearances - some way short of his record tally of 12 in both March and January.

Kane is already averaging more goals per game for his country than Charlton did too, and his star will only continue to rise if he can fire England to the World Cup by extending his remarkable form.

The striker has even been backed for the captaincy following Wayne Rooney's retirement earlier this season, and with him leading the line and leading the team, hopes of first reaching the World Cup and then making it to the latter stages of the tournament will be that much higher.

Recent qualifying form: DWWDWW
Recent form (all competitions): WDLWW


Slovenia's head coach Srecko Katanec looks on before the Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Slovenia and San Marino at the Stozice Stadium in in Ljubljana on March 27, 2015.© Getty Images

The dream of top spot and automatic qualification for the World Cup may be realistically beyond Slovenia, but they still have plenty to fight for in Group F.

Just one point currently separates Slovakia, Slovenia and Scotland in the battle for second place and a spot in the playoffs, setting the group up nicely for a blockbuster finale.

Ultimately qualification is in the hands of Scotland, despite them currently being in the worst position of the three. Gordon Strachan's side face both Slovakia and Slovenia in their final two games, and two wins from two would see them qualify for Russia.

Slovenia will be hoping for a draw when the Tartan Army host Slovakia on Thursday night - although they would still likely need something from Wembley given that Slovakia host pointless Malta in their final match.

Indeed, any permutation is likely to need Slovenia to pick up at least a point from this match if they are to qualify, which is a big ask at a ground where England have won a national-record 13 competitive games in a row and are unbeaten in 22 qualifying matches stretching back to 2000.

It gets even tougher to envision Slovenia saving themselves when you consider their away form, which has seen them win just one of their last nine matches on the road. Indeed, the only teams Slovenia have beaten away from home in the past four years have been minnows Lithuania, San Marino and Malta, losing 12 matches in that run and failing to score in 12 too.

Srecko Katanec's side have drawn blanks in all three of their away games this calendar year, including back-to-back qualifying defeats in Scotland and Slovakia which have ultimately left them in this difficult position.

Should the visitors pull off one of the biggest Wembley shocks of the modern era, though, then it would mark back-to-back wins for the first time since October 2014 and leave them in a good position to reach the World Cup for only the third time.

Recent form: DWLWLW
Recent form (all competitions): DWLWLW

Team News

Harry Winks of England during the England v Belgium - U18 International Friendly match at St Georges Park on February 18, 2014© Getty Images

Having represented England at every youth level from Under-17s up, Harry Winks has been handed his first senior call-up following the withdrawal of Fabian Delph.

Phil Jones has also pulled out of the squad, increasing the chances of Harry Maguire making his debut for the Three Lions.

While two Harrys will be hoping to make their international bows, another will be looking to continue his fine form at this level as Kane goes in search of his sixth goal in his last five England appearances.

Kane is a contender for the captain's armband alongside Jordan Henderson, Gary Cahill and Joe Hart, the latter of whom is expected to retain his place in goal once again for his 74th cap.

There will be no Dele Alli for the hosts, though, as he serves his one-match ban for making a rude gesture during England's last outing.

Slovenia's ageing defence will be up against Kane, with four members of the backline over the age of 30 and none under the age of 26 in the visiting squad.

One of those veteran defenders - Bostjan Cesar - is in line to win his 99th cap and is the joint-highest scorer in the Slovenian camp alongside Tim Matavz, who has an impressive 10 goals in 33 appearances at this level.

England possible starting lineup:
Hart; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Bertrand; Henderson, Dier, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sterling, Kane, Rashford

Slovenia possible starting lineup:
Oblak; Cesar, Viler, Skubic, Mevlja; Ilicic, Kurtic, Rotman, Verbic, Repas; Matavz

Head To Head

England have won four of the previous five meetings between these two nations, with the only exception coming in the reverse fixture in Ljubljana just over a year ago.

Slovenia were unfortunate not to win that match too, hitting the woodwork twice in a goalless draw that marked Southgate's first away game in charge of his country.

Slovenia have only visited Wembley twice before, both of which ended in defeat. The most recent of those came in November 2014 when England were forced to come from behind after a Henderson own goal, with Rooney quickly responding before a Danny Welbeck brace handed them a 3-1 victory.

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We say: England 2-0 Slovenia

England have not exactly set the world alight so far under Southgate, but it is hard to see anything other than a home win in this match. The Three Lions have a formidable competitive record at Wembley and, with the prospect of World Cup qualification just one win away, anything other than a relatively comfortable triumph would be a surprise.

Who will win Thursday's World Cup qualifier between England and Slovenia?

England defender Gary Cahill in action during his side's World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley on November 11, 2016
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