England are sailing through Group F of their World Cup Qualifying group after a comfortable yet underwhelming 2-0 victory over Lithuania at Wembley Sunday night.
It was the second game in a week for Gareth Southgate’s England side who were narrowly defeated in Dortmund on Wednesday against Germany, who in truth were there for the taking.
The 1-0 defeat to the world champions was in a friendly match so it’s significance was not on par with Sunday’s match up with minnows Lithuania, where there was no room for error.
Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe scored a fairy-tale opener on his first appearance in an England shirt since 2013, tapping in from close range as he deputised for the injured Harry Kane.
Leicester City forward Jamie Vardy assured the win as he came off the bench to score England’s second.
But the same failings of previous qualifying games seem to be coming back to haunt England again. For a side ranked 104th in the FIFA world rankings, England were expected to look imperious and with an attack with the likes of Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain involved, it is puzzling how difficult England made it for themselves.
They struggled to break the stubborn Lithuania side, which unsurprisingly opted to play 11 men behind the ball.
In Dortmund on Wednesday night, the three lions dominated proceedings and restricted the home side to efforts from long range but a lack of clinical finishing up front cost Southgate his unbeaten streak as manager and another win on German soil after the 3-2 victory in Berlin almost a year to the day.
Lukas Podolski’s wonder strike from 25 yards separated the two sides in the end on his final appearance for his country.
But England left the Westfalenstadion with much regret as they only managed two shots on target from their 11 efforts on goal.
However, there were undeniably some positives to be taken from both fixtures this week.
Southgate’s men made a much-changed Germany side look very ordinary. They dominated the lion’s share of possession in an away fixture which is impressive considering that it was the world champions in front of them, who will be favourites to retain their crown in Russia in 2018.
Additionally, the recall of Jermain Defoe to the international set up certainly paid off for Southgate as the Sunderland forward typically finished his chance, only 20 minutes into his return.
His goal at Wembley does in no way guarantee a place on the plane to Russia next summer, but his performance has given Southgate much to ponder as he considers his striking options with Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford, all vying to be included.
Then there is the conundrum about what happens to the captain, Wayne Rooney. England’s all-time leading scorer has fallen out of favour at Old Trafford and looks to be heading towards the exit door this summer.
But what he has achieved for club and country that makes it difficult to overlook the Manchester United forward for a spot in Russia?
Southgate proved that he is not afraid of egos after dropping Rooney for both games, however at 31-years-old and with arguably one more tournament left in him, the former England defender turned-manager would be brave to make a call that no other England boss has ever made by dropping him from a major showpiece.
The England team have work to do before the World Cup finals commence, but with 13 points from their opening five matches, they can take confidence that they will progress with a few more wins required.
They may face some threat in their next fixture in September against the ‘auld enemy’ Scotland, with the rivalry alone set to make it a tasty affair at Hampden Park.
With a group that includes the likes of Sunday’s opposition Lithuania and Slovenia, England won’t be tested until they step foot into Eastern Europe next summer.