England Beat Lithuania to Stay Undefeated in 2018 World Cup Qualification

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistOctober 8, 2017

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA - OCTOBER 08: Harry Kane of England prepares for a penalty kick during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Lithuania and England on October 8, 2017 in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Photo by Lukasz Laskowski/PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images)
MB Media/Getty Images

England ended their 2018 World Cup qualification campaign with a 1-0 victory over Lithuania on Sunday, when it was a solitary spot-kick from Tottenham Hotspur talisman Harry Kane that settled the scoreline.     

Manager Gareth Southgate experimented with his lineup against a Lithuania side no longer competing for a 2018 World Cup place, a fact that came across in another disjointed England performance opposite minnow opposition.

The Three Lions secured their World Cup places on Thursday, when a late Kane winner saw them to a 1-0 win against Slovenia, but victory in Vilnius ensured they head into next year's preparations in high spirits. 

That result against Slovenia allowed Southgate some room to manoeuvre in terms of selection on Sunday, with Leicester City centre-back Harry Maguire and Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Winks given their debuts.

James Olley of the London Evening Standard posted the team in full, a lineup that shared only four starters in common with the XI that ground out Thursday's victory:

But despite the widespread change in the starting team, England looked just as hesitant and were lacking in much ruthless edge once again on Sunday.

If the wet weather didn't dampen the away fans' spirits, the Three Lions' at-times tedious approach to attacking football might have. As Winks made his first international start, the Daily Mail's Adam Crafton questioned if past figures were missed: 

Lithuania weren't having much luck serving the ball to frontman Darvydas Sernas and conceded right before the break, not that the already eliminated outfit were showing much verve to steal the win in any case.

Dele Alli helped Tottenham Hotspur team-mate Kane to increase his international goal tally by drawing a penalty, and the official England Twitter account posted footage of the striker tucking his attempt away with aplomb:

That strike also improved Kane's recent international record, per Squawka, which leaves little question as to who the right man is to lead England's line, although some may wonder whether he'd succeed more with a partner:

Captain Kane and Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford continued to offer the Lithuanian defence problems in the second half, but in a game with so little at stake, neither side looked like chasing goals too much.

There was a close call for Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland to save early on after the restart, however, when Michael Keane's attempted clearance took his own No. 1 by surprise, via ITV Sport:

It was in the second half that Lithuania simmered in terms of competition, and the Three Lions were permitted to roll the ball around in a match that's sure to have given their newer faces some confidence. 

It was also encouraging to see Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge come on for his first England appearance in almost a year, replacing Rashford for the last 20 minutes, while Alli came off for United midfielder Jesse Lingard.

Scotland will not be joining their Home Nation neighbours in Russia after Slovenia came back from a goal down to draw 2-2 in Ljubljana, allowing Slovakia to leapfrog manager Gordon Strachan's side into second.

The Slovaks beat Malta 3-0 at home and will end the campaign in the play-off place by virtue of goal difference. As things stand, however, England will be the only team from Group F heading to the World Cup as Slovakia's points tally looks likely to see them eliminated from the play-off portrait.

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