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England face a lose-lose situation against Slovakia this evening

Monday 4th September 2017
Gareth Southgate's England demolished Malta on Friday as the almost part-timers were no match for their far superior opponents. That should have been the headline in Saturday morning's papers, but it instead conveyed the fact that England struggled to all three points. 

Instead of the on-field destruction that England should have bestowed upon their Maltese counterparts, three late goals flattered a side with an abundance of Premier League players, although they did not ever really look in danger of losing the game.

In truth, the match itself was a lost-lose for England. Malta set up in classic minnow style, with 11 men behind the ball at all times, hoping against hope that a long-ball, ricochet or loose pass from England would see them given the slightest glimmer of a chance.

For England, the game should have been a chance to flex their creative muscles. Most agree that games against the likes of Malta and San Marino are irrelevant but, where the Three Lions are different from the likes of Spain and Germany is in the fact the latter are able to play neat football between the lines of the opposition and break down stubborn defences. For England, keeping the ball and moving it quickly has always been a particular problem for them.

However, things didn't really go to plan for Southgate's side against Malta. Their hosts proved a tough nut to crack and until the final 10 minutes, England were just one goal to the good. Post-match analysis was largely derisory towards England, with Southgate's men enjoying a lot of possession, without having much endeavour in front of goal.

In the end, the three points were always going to be the most important thing in their win, and England claimed them, and that match will be forgotten almost immediately.
The Three Lions now face a stern test in the form of Slovakia at Wembley this evening. The visitors currently sit in second place in Group F with 15 points, just two points shy of England. When the two sides met back in September, England ran out 1-0 winners. They now face off in what is likely to be the deciding game in who takes the automatic qualifying place in the group.

While Slovakia are not a side to be trifled with, it is still a game England are expected to win. However, their struggles against Malta in the last game allude to the fact that the Three Lions are still searching for their own identity. With so many talented players in their side, it is difficult to work out why they struggle to create chances, however, it is likely that Southgate is yet to fully instil his own philosophy on his England team as yet.

The lower calibre of opponents, England's troubles with creativity and the fact their group can hardly be classed as a 'group of death' mean that, should England fail to win this evening, then headlines tomorrow will be similar to the day the world ends. However, if they do win, then it will be a more of an 'England were always going to win' outlook. Ultimately, even if they win, they can't win.

Being an England footballer is not always as desirable as it seems then. While pulling on the jersey is the pinnacle for every English footballer, they take their fair share of criticism from the press and the fans, and so they should with the way they have performed in recent years.

However, it is time for everyone to get behind their side. The Welsh have done so with a once abject tea and the fans are a massive reason as to why the Welsh Dragon is now flying so high. While England face a situation where victory is expected, that is because, as a fan, we have a good football team that can achieve more.

Instead of facilitating the players becoming terrified of failure, we should be encouraging them to express themselves on the pitch, thus allowing them to improve individually and as a collective. While England haven't been perfect in recent years, neither have we. Tonight is the perfect chance to get behind the national side as they look to cement their place at the World Cup in Russia, giving them another chance to end so many years of footballing pain for both the players and their supporters.

Ben Darvill

I graduated with an upper second class degree in English and Creative writing from Cardiff Metropolitan University. I have been a freelance sports writer since leaving University and have written for a number of online websites. I am a Chelsea and England fan but I enjoy watching any team play as I have an intense passion for football.

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