A new dawn for England

Sam Allardyce's first test as England manager will be to guide his players past Slovakia in their World Cup qualifier. With his squad largely consisting of players disgraced by association with the dismal surrender to Iceland at Euro 2016, including
Sam Allardyce's first test as England manager will be to guide his players past Slovakia in their World Cup qualifier. With his squad largely consisting of players disgraced by association with the dismal surrender to Iceland at Euro 2016, including the likes of Wayne Rooney (left) and Harry Kane, the Englishman is not short of talent in his side, but simply needs to get them to perform in Three Lions colours. PHOTO: REUTERS

Allardyce bids to help Three Lions shed Euro setback as road to Russia begins in Slovakia

LONDON • The last we saw of England was Harry Kane shanking a free kick, Wayne Rooney stumbling over the ball and Joe Hart fumbling at a goal-bound shot as a country collectively held its head in dumbstruck horror.

Today, less than 70 days since the Iceland debacle, the Three Lions return in Slovakia with a promise to make it better. Never mind that eight of that starting XI are unchanged and the other three were on the bench in France, a new era begins under Sam Allardyce with a pledge of a fresh start. Again.

"Big Sam" is the 12th full-time appointment since Sir Alf Ramsey and probably the least feted, but he is striving to make up for whatever he lacks in trophies with full-beam bullishness.

He is right to try but whether any manager can easily discard the baggage that builds with every failure, passed dolefully from generation to generation, will be one of the key tests of his regime.

Allardyce's tenure as England manager begins today when his side launch their bid to reach the 2018 World Cup against Euro 2016 foes Slovakia in Trnava.

"We were the youngest squad at the Euros and I think the experience they have gained in that tournament will give them a better determination and next time round they will be much better," he told reporters this week.

Several players who lined up for England in France have seen their statuses change significantly in the two months and two weeks since.

Goalkeeper Hart is now on loan at Torino after being frozen out by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

He at least has secured a place in Allardyce's squad, unlike Everton's Ross Barkley and new Bournemouth loanee Jack Wilshere, both of whom were overlooked.

Chris Smalling, an ever-present at centre-back throughout the Euros, is currently not getting in Manchester United's team and Daniel Sturridge has had to get used to a watching brief at Liverpool.

Ryan Bertrand is injured and teenage sensation Marcus Rashford has dropped to the Under-21s after seeing his place taken by Zlatan Ibrahimovic at United.

But Raheem Sterling, lambasted for his performances in France, is in the form of his life at City and, like his new club-mate John Stones, is a strong contender for a starting role.

Captain Rooney is to be used in the No. 10 role, having laboured in midfield at the Euros, and has vowed that this qualifying campaign will be his last.

Slovakia coach Jan Kozak, whose side fell to Germany in the last 16 at the Euros, has also made adjustments to his squad.

Goalkeeper Jan Mucha and winger Miroslav Stoch missed the cut, the latter after falling out with Kozak, Stanislav Sestak has retired from international football and several players are injured.

Kozak has called up two uncapped players in winger Jakub Holubek and midfielder Jakub Povazanec. But the core of his starting XI is likely to remain unchanged, built around Fenerbahce centre-back Martin Skrtel, AC Milan midfielder Juraj Kucka and Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik.

"There were a lot of players in their thirties in the squad, so there is a generation problem awaiting us in the future," said Kozak. "Since the Euros, there has not been a lot of time for experimenting, because there is immediately a big start against England."

As in Euro 2016 qualifying, when they won 2-0 at Switzerland in their opening game, England are beginning a qualification campaign with what appears to be their most difficult fixture.

With only the top team guaranteed to qualify from Group F, which also features Slovenia, Lithuania, Malta and old enemies Scotland, Allardyce can ill afford a false start.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


SLOVAKIA V ENGLAND

Singtel TV Ch109, 11.55pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'A new dawn for England'. Print Edition | Subscribe