How did Slovakia hold firm against England?

England fans were left dejected following a goalless draw against Slovakia that saw them qualify for the knockout stages behind rivals Wales.

How did Slovakia hold firm against England?
Slovakia were a tough unit to break down. | Image credit: Getty Images

There was only one discussion circulating English football fans on Tuesday did they not beat Slovakia? Many are beginning to write off the pre-tournament fourth favourites following an uninspiring group stage where they drew with a weak Russian side, scraped victory against Wales and failed to beat Slovakia. Though were England really that bad in their latest disappointment? 

Slovakia were organised and compact in defence

Slovakia were always going to be a tough opposition. A team that work for each other and defeated Spain in qualification and Germany in a pre-tournament friendly. Even before a ball was kicked, central midfielder Patrik Hrosovsky announced his team would set up to "counter-attack" England, whilst captain Martin Skrtel made no secrets of his plan to "kick Daniel Sturridge". If anyone was in any doubt at kick-off of how Slovakia would approach the game, it became even more evident when the teamsheet showed a winger playing up front in Ondrej Duda

Slovakia are strong on the counter-attack as Hrosovsky pointed out, combining the pace of wingers Robert Mak and Vladimir Weiss with the raw ability of Marek Hamsik. Yet they were cautious even in that department, rarely throwing players forward in fear of being exploited with depleted numbers if they lost the ball. In fact, Slovakia only really had one shot at goal, a tame effort from Weiss when cutting in from the wing. 

A glance at the statistics proves that England dominated the game. Over 60% possession and almost 30 shots at goal showed that Roy Hodgson's men were on top for much of the game. So how did it end up as a goalless draw? A deeper look into those statistics shows that they do not give a clear reflection of England's play.

Nathaniel Clyne had one of England's best opportunities (photo : Getty Images)
Nathaniel Clyne had one of England's best opportunities (photo : Getty Images)

A lack of creative imagination in midfield

England certainly had more possession, but too many of their passes went sideways. The midfield lacked creative imagination and struggled to break down the ten men that Slovakia placed behind the ball. Lofted passes were gobbled up by central defenders Skrtel and Jan Durica, whilst England often did not play with much tempo to their shorter passes. 

Although England managed nearly a shot every three minutes, only five were on target. Goalkeeper Matus Kozacik made three stand out saves, although those from Jamie Vardy, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne were practically straight at him.

Vardy and Clyne came about their chances when space opened up in behind the defence. With Slovakia set up defensively on the edge of their area, that occurrence was few and far between. England may actually benefit in the latter stages of the tournament when they play against stronger opposition who could leave space on the counter-attack. 

Roy Hodgson and his men can still take a number of positives from the game. A first clean sheet of the tournament and a successful pressing game that saw them consistently win the ball back quickly. The link up play of Liverpool quartet Nathaniel Clyne, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge was sometimes exquisite. Though the whole squad will have to find similar phases of play if England are to progress much further in the tournament.