LONDON – Harry Kane toed in a 94th-minute winner as England secured their place at next year’s World Cup in Russia with a thoroughly lacklustre 1-0 victory over Slovenia on Thursday.
Gareth Southgate’s side looked utterly bereft of ideas at a somnolent, two thirds-full Wembley until skipper Kane converted Kyle Walker’s inviting cross to score his 14th goal in nine games for club and country.
The result left England six points clear at the top of Group F above neighbours Scotland, whose 1-0 win over 10-man Slovakia in Glasgow left them in pole position to claim the playoff place.
It is the sixth time in succession England have qualified for the World Cup, but after making such heavy work of defeating Slovenia, they are unlikely to give the game’s superpowers many sleepless nights.
Prior to Kane’s strike, the 61 598 fans in attendance at England’s national stadium had taken to entertaining themselves by launching paper aeroplanes at the pitch.
Nevertheless, for Southgate it represented mission accomplished, a year on from his hasty appointment as manager – initially on an interim basis – after his predecessor Sam Allardyce was felled by a newspaper sting.
News of Scotland’s goal against Slovakia lifted the pressure on England, and they duly snatched victory when Kane launched himself at Walker’s cross to give the long-suffering home fans something to cheer at last.
Meanwhile in Belfast, Sebastian Rudy, Sandro Wagner and Joshua Kimmich secured defending champions Germany’s place at the 2018 World Cup on Thursday with a clinical 3-1 win over Northern Ireland.
Rudy and Wagner’s glorious first-half strikes had their place all but wrapped up, before Kimmich scored late on to extend Germany’s remarkable unbeaten away record to 47 World Cup qualifiers dating back to 1934.
The Northern Irish, for whom Josh Magennis grabbed a late consolation, couldn’t give manager Michael O’Neill a memorable scalp on his 50th match in charge as they slid to their first competitive home defeat since Portugal beat them 4-2 in September 2013.
However, they can still look forward to a place in the playoffs and a possible trip to Russia.