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England can seal spot in Russia with win to nil

World Cup qualifier

England have led World Cup qualifying Group F since a 2-0 victory at home to Malta last October and they should seal qualification for Russia 2018 with a match to spare by beating Slovenia at Wembley.

It might not be a classic match for home supporters to savour but England should overcome a stubborn, well-drilled Slovenia side and can increase their clean-sheet tally to seven from nine matches.

Progress for Gareth Southgate's side has been reasonably smooth although one of the few bumps in the road was an uneventful 0-0 draw with Slovenia in Ljubljana 12 months ago.

Slovenia might need to push for more than a goalless draw this time as they strive to pip Slovakia and Scotland to second place. And their attitude may depend on events at Hampden Park where the fourth-placed Scots will take on second-placed Slovakia.

A win for Slovakia would be a worst case scenario for Slovenia. And if the Slovenia bench hear that the Glasgow contest is favouring the away side, Slovenia may have to take a few more risks to try to win the game.

From England's perspective the landscape is more straightforward, although Southgate would much rather seal the deal at Wembley than wait until Sunday's trip to Lithuania.

His options are reduced by injuries to Phil Jones, Nathaniel Clyne, Danny Rose, Adam Lallana, Danny Welbeck and Jamie Vardy plus the suspension of Dele Alli.

But England's favoured holding midfielders – Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson – are available and can provide the platform for a talented, confident attack to do plenty of damage.

Captain Harry Kane is the main threat and will be buzzing after scoring 13 goals for club and country in September.

The Tottenham man will be well supported by Raheem Sterling – fresh from playing a key role in Manchester City's 1-0 win at Chelsea – and Marcus Rashford, who has started the last four Premier League games for Manchester United.

Slovenia are going to have their hands full and will lean heavily on world-class goalkeeper Jan Oblak and experienced central defender Bostjan Cesar, who will be their first player to reach 100 caps if taking part in both of this week's qualifiers against England and Scotland.

They have defended soundly throughout the campaign, conceding just four goals in eight games, and head coach Srecko Katanec will have them set up to frustrate England for as long as possible.

The longer they stay in the game the more adventurous they may become.

But there is an obvious lack of firepower in a squad which includes just two players with double-figure goal tallies - striker Tim Matavz and defender Cesar each have ten.

Atalanta attacking midfielder Josep Ilicic is probably their most dangerous player although his international return of five goals from 48 appearances is a shade disappointing for somebody who has twice reached double figures in Serie A campaigns (ten in 31 games for Palermo in 2012-13 and 13 in 30 games for Fiorentina in 2015-16).

Given the lack of top-quality attacking players, sights of Joe Hart's goal are likely to be fleeting and there is a strong chance of the visitors failing to get on the scoresheet.

Slovenia have failed to score in two competitive away games this year, losing 1-0 to Scotland and 1-0 to Slovakia.

A similar outcome looks likely against England, who have looked by far the strongest team in the section.

Recommendation
England win to nil

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Match in Focus

19:00 TODAY SSMI

Sociedad v Espanyol

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Sociedad's five home league and European games have produced 24 goals
Expert verdict
Espanyol look a big price to spring a surprise in San Sebastian. The Catalans have only lost two of their last seven – they were against Barcelona and Real Madrid – while Sociedad do leak goals at home after conceding ten in four league outings. The visitors signed off last term with three away victories in four, and can return to winning ways.