England ease past Lithuania to complete perfect Euro 2016 qualifying record
England completed their Euro 2016 qualifying with a final clash against Lithuania, winning 3-0 on the night to maintain their perfect 100 per cent unbeaten record of 10 triumphs from as many matches, in what has proven to be a restorative campaign for Roy Hodgson’s men.
Once again, it was dangerous duo Ross Barkley and Harry Kane’s play that painted the brightest picture of the Three Lions future, their promising performances, fizzing with boldness and bravery, far outweighing the importance of retaining that heralded record.
Sure enough the opposition was largely lacklustre, as England stroked the ball around with ease in the opening exchanges. Yet, Lithuania’s plastic pitch proved a brilliant base for Hodgson’s young-guns to cut their teeth on here, ahead of some formidable forthcoming friendlies.
It took a keen Kane just nine minutes to have his first sight of goal. Though early on Watford back-up keeper Giedrius Arlauskis was impressive, keeping the Tottenham hitman at bay on three occasions, with the last save foiling a delightful turn and strike from the Spurs sharpshooter, which Jamie Vardy failed to follow up on quickly enough.
Eventually, around the 28th minute mark, it fell to Barkley to break the deadlock, though this time the Evertonian’s excellence came in the form of a goal rather than string-pulling precision. After being gifted far too much space, the 21-year-old’s venomous and swerving strike outside the box caught a generous deflection to beat Arlauskis and put England ahead.
Lithuania finally began creating the odd opening of their own, as England sloppily allowed forward Lukas Spalvis room for a speculative shot from a wide position in the box, though stand-in stopper Jack Butland terrifically tipped the effort wide.
Kane, full of hustle and bustle, responded almost immediately to that rearguard wobble, though the credit for his strike will be awarded to unfortunate Arlauskis as an own goal. Lovely link-up play with lively Adam Lallana carved the chance, as the Liverpool schemer’s delightful drag-back fell to Kane, who smashed in a near-post shot, though replays show the post and custodian inadvertently helped it in.
Jonjo Shelvey was also in the thick of the action, testing the keeper from distance, and his unconventional play from deep must have usual but injury-prone conductor Jack Wilshere worried for his starting spot.
After the break it was more of the same, but Kane somehow failed to net from two golden chances, with alert Arlauskis deserving much praise for scuppering the Spurs star from close-range positions the poacher would usually have gobbled up.
Another highlight early in the second half was dangerman Danny Ings’ arrival, the Reds frontman making his senior international bow, while Dele Alli also nabbed a second cap.
Though it was an otherwise quiet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who made it 3-0, after late call-up Kyle Walker craftily slipped the Arsenal wingman through Lithuania’s defence, and the exciting Englishman made no mistake with his thumping finish, leaving exposed Arlauskis no chance.
The two substitutes Alli and Ings almsot combined to contribute, as the Three Lions searched for a fourth, though Lithuania’s lithe goalie was strong against the latter’s stinging strike.
A fantastic fourth wasn’t to come, but England tied up all their loose Euro 2016 qualifying threads with this victory and, though the Group E victors still have kinks to work out, their campaign has been a resounding success. Tougher opponents await, however.