Gareth Southgate promises England will excite against Slovakia

After the 'dross' against Malta, the Three Lions have a point to prove at Wembley

Harry Kane England
Harry Kane scores England's fourth goal against Malta 
(Image credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

England will take a huge step towards qualification for next year's World Cup if they beat Slovakia tonight at Wembley.

Currently top of Group F, the Three Lions are two points ahead of the Slovaks, who lie second, and six ahead of Scotland.

Victory this evening will therefore not only maintain England's unbeaten record in the group but put them five points clear of their nearest rivals with only two matches remaining - at home to Slovenia on October 5 and then away to Lithuania three days later.

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But even the most one-eyed of England fans won't be too bullish about the team's chances in Russia next summer. The bottom line is that Gareth Southgate's squad has a rich seam of mediocrity and were it not for the fact they are in the easiest of groups imaginable their situation might not be so healthy going into the home straight of qualification.

In beating Malta on Friday night, England required three goals in the dying minutes to finally snuff out the plucky challenge of the part-timers, a victory The Sun described as "one of the worst piles of dross ever served up by the Three Lions".

It took the visitors 53 minutes to find the Maltese net and although Harry Kane's two goals were further confirmation of his international pedigree, there was little else for the travelling fans to cheer.

Instead they heckled and jeered their boys, and Southgate admitted he wasn't surprised. "I understand the reaction," he said. "I've played in nights like this and, if you don't get a couple of early goals, the atmosphere can turn. But that's part of wearing the shirt. You have to deal with that.

Promising that tonight "will be completely different", the England manager added: "We have some exciting players and we want to show that. We have a responsibility to get the Wembley crowd on their is an opportunity. We have a home game to put us within touching distance of Russia, which is exciting. Qualifying groups come down to these type of games."

As for the suggestion that some of the England squad are indifferent to international football, Southgate reacted testily: "The notion the players aren't proud to play is outrageous. They're unbelievably proud to play. Yeah, they might not play as well as they'd like to sometimes, not convert all their chances, but there's no one not giving 100 per cent."

One of England's opponents this evening is Vladimir Weiss, who had spells at Manchester City and Bolton and now earns a living playing for Al Gharafa in Qatar.

In theory he and his teammates shouldn't be able to match the intensity of a team honed in the Premier League but having played in England, Weiss is aware of the years of perennial failure on the international stage.

"You look at England and they always win their qualification group," said the midfielder, who missed last year's 1-0 home defeat to the Three Lions. "Then when it comes to the big tournaments they never do well."

And Weiss believes that Slovakia could throw Pool F wide open this evening by inflicting England's first defeat of the qualifying stage.

"We have beaten big teams before and if we play at our best we can beat anyone, even England," he said. "We fight together and that is why we are successful on the field together."

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