KEIR RADNEDGE in SAINT-ETIENNE: The Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, scene of one of England’s most famous failures, was not as unfriendly this time around as the Three Lions, despite being held goalless by Slovakia, did manage to keep moving on into the second round of Euro 2016.
England did slip from top to second place in Group B but that might not be such a setback if they find themselves playing one of the less strong Group F teams in Nice on Saturday, rather than facing a tougher task in Paris.
In Saint-Etienne in 1998 England lost on penalties to Argentina in the second round of the World Cup, a dramatic confrontation in which Michael Owen scored a brilliant goal and David Beckham was notoriously sent off for kicking out at Diego Simeone.
This time elimination was not on the cards though manager Roy Hodgson was disappointed that, as against Russia in the first match, England huffed and puffed and had even less to show for it.
At least against the Russians England scored one goal, albeit from a free kick. Slovakia, however, and their man-of-the-match goalkeeper Matus Kozacik prevented England scoring at all despite using all their much-vaunted attacking complement of Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney at one time of another.
Hodgson, generally considered a cautious manager, had made a surprising six changes for the game and it took a recast team some time to adjust and adapt.
Nathaniel Clyne offered a usefully nifty outlet down the right wing, benefiting from his Liverpool club understanding with Jordan Henderson, but too often England, despite dominating possession, cluttered up their own game.
Jack Wilshere, playing in the attacking centre of a notional diamond, was guilty of wasting too much of the possession with which he was steadily provided by the classy Eric Dier. But then, Wilshere had barely played all season. Expecting him to answer all England’s creative challenges was over-optimisic.
Slovakia were content with a point which virtually ensured their own progress as a third-placed team. They moved the ball swiftly and wide when they saw rare opportunities for a break with Marek Hamsik again nimbly impressive.
The closest they came to a goal of their own was in the opening minutes of the second half when Robert Mak nearly punished a misundestanding between Chris Smalling and Joe Hart then when Vladimir Weiss delivered a low drive which forced a sharp low save from the goalkeeper.
England, for all their possesion, created few clear chances. The clearest in the first half was engineered by Adam Lallana from whom keeper Matus Kozacik made a fine leaping save in the 32nd minute.
Hodgson’s impatience was illustrated during the second half as he brought on skipper Rooney, Dele Alli and Kane.
Alli might have scored with his first touch but an angled attempt ricocheted over the goal, Dier thumped a low drive wide from out on the right and Kane could not quite stretch his head up a right-wing cross from Henderson.
By stoppage time even the quality of England’s desperation crosses let them down. By then Slovakia believed they were well worth their point.