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World Cup 2018 qualifiers: England wins again

England 2-1 Slovakia

England goals: Eric Dier 37, Marcus Rashford 59
Slovakia goal: Stanislav Lobotka 3

England is on the brink of reaching the finals in Russia next year after another win in the World Cup Russian 2018 Qualifier – this time against Slovakia at Wembley Stadium in London. An early goal down to Slovakia due to Rashford’s error, the 19-year-old forward provided an assist and a winning strike to leave England five points clear in Group F with just two fixtures to go in the World Cup Qualifiers Group Stages. Gareth Southgate’s winning England side included Marcus Rashford and Eric Dier who were both in the starting XI: Hart, Walker, Bertrand, Cahill, Jones, Henderson, Dier, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alli, Rashford, Kane. England has cause to celebrate on the Road to World Cup Russia 2018, in contrast to their despair from Euro 2016. England’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia at Wembley was good for morale at the team level and for fans alike. Less than 18 months ago, former England manager Roy Hodgson's team encountered Slovakia at Euro 2016 in Saint Etienne ending up with a 0-0 draw that earned them a second-round tie against Iceland in Nice. Iceland overcame an early Wayne Rooney goal to win 2-1 and give the Three Lions one of their most humiliating defeats ever. In Nice, England fell behind in the first half and Hodgson's players had a hard time getting inspired. Hope and belief visibly drained from the team. Slovakia went ahead in the third minute, making life tough for England for half an hour.

It was a character test for Gareth Southgate's players similar to the one they faced when going behind late in the game against Scotland in Glasgow, but they responded. "To come from behind against a side with very good footballers, particularly in midfield, we had to show character," Southgate said. "Hopefully it is a sign of progress. This is a work in progress and the only way to do that is go through these experiences and win. We controlled the game in the second half and I am very proud of what the players have done. They showed real maturity. "We weren't hanging on and panicking at the end, we saw the game out, which was pleasing to see, but although it was an important step, there will be tougher tests to come, added Southgate. "Still, it has been a big week for the players. The experience of Friday [booed by fans against Malta] means they have lived with spotlight of being an England player. They have had to show resilience and a good tactical reaction and while it's an incredibly young team, they are good experiences to go through when you win because it builds belief."

The Road to Russia is the road to redemption for some of England's players who in the past have allowed themselves to get carried away by failure or success. However, Southgate is bringing realism to the England plans. The test will come in the build-up to Russia 2018 when the hype begins to start. By talking of greater tests ahead, Southgate is attempting to inject a sense of caution, but at least he is able to do so after a victory that was largely earned by the contribution of Marcus Rashford, who overcame the blow of giving a goal away with a third-minute mistake to make the equalizer for Eric Dier and then score a second-half winner. The Manchester United forward is strong in mental strength. After the game, Southgate admitted that the teenager stepped up to the plate to help England win the crucial match.

"Marcus Rashford showed, like the rest of the team, great character," Southgate said. "He made the mistake for their goal, but he kept persevering. It's early for Marcus so we have to keep things in perspective. He is exciting, we gave him last summer off from going with the U21s and he's benefited from that. His maturity is excellent, he is never in awe of any occasion. He is still a work in progress, as we saw at the beginning of the game, but he is still getting stronger. He had a huge impact on the game." Southgate's praise of Rashford was echoed by his teammate Eric Dier, who joked about the youngster's early mistake. "Marcus Rashford's night?" Dier said. "It wasn't so good to begin with, but it got better. A fantastic show of character after making a mistake to score and then score the winner which got us closer to the World Cup, where hopefully he will shine." Rashford will be a potential star of Russia 2018 if he and England get there. For Rashford there was redemption; for the England manager, there was a much-needed victory. Scotland now have a chance to finish runners-up in this group and qualify for the playoffs. Next England host Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday October 5th and on Sunday October 8th, England travel to play Lithunia. LiveFootballTickets.com has the best selection of England World Cup tickets!

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