Weblog: The football punter

England to finish qualifying in style

World Cup qualifier
ITV, 5pm Sunday

There was a lot of criticism of England's performance on Thursday – much of it deserved – but very little appreciation of Slovenia, who were well organised and highly motivated.

Slovenia were in the last-chance saloon and made life difficult for an England side who still looks a fair way behind the world's elite teams.

But Gareth Southgate's team stuck to their task and just about merited their victory over stubborn opponents, who have conceded just five goals in nine group matches.

The result extended England's unbeaten run in qualifiers to 38 games and that sequence is highly likely to be extended against Lithuania, who have done little more than make up the numbers in Group F.

Lithuania made a bright enough start to qualifying, taking five points from the first three games, and were harbouring hopes of challenging Scotland, Slovakia and Slovenia for second place.

But the wheels fell off with a 4-0 loss away to Slovakia last November and there has been no response.

Lithuania suffered five qualifying defeats in a row until Tuesday's 1-1 draw away to basement boys Malta.

They became the first team in the group to drop points against the Maltese and seem further away than ever from challenging for major tournament qualification.

If Lithuania lose to England they will finish on six points – their lowest total in a World Cup qualifying campaign since 2001 when they collected just two points from eight games.

They were dominant against Malta on Tuesday, winning the shot count 15 to four, but were shaky at the back and their porous back-line could be quickly exploited by an England side eager to produce a more convincing performance.

Southgate welcomes back Dele Alli and could be tempted to use a few of his fringe players as he begins the task of settling on a squad for next summer.

But he will also be mindful of getting an improved performance and a result which lifts the mood and boosts the players' confidence in the run up to next month's prestigious Wembley friendlies against Germany and Brazil.

England will be urged to play with less caution and at a higher tempo and it should not be long before they expose a Lithuania side who have shipped 19 goals in the group, only three fewer than Malta.

The Three Lions should be in control by the break and look a solid bet to be leading at half-time and full-time.

England-England double result

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Match in Focus

19:45 Sa 26May

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Real have won just one of their last four Champions League meetings against English opposition
Expert verdict
Real Madrid have lifted the Champions League in three of the past four seasons but they could struggle to retain their crown against a lively Liverpool. Real have been the dominant force in Europe, with last year’s 4-1 thumping of Juventus in the final in Cardiff showcasing their superiority. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have not bumped into a front three like the Reds’ often - Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted 29 of their 40 Champions League goals this season - and they are vulnerable to the counter-attack.