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England avoid red card, defeat against Slovakia to close in on World Cup qualification

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Top spot in the qualifying group was on the line at Wembley on Monday night, but it were the visitors who looked more up for it early. Slovakia jumped out to a lead inside of three minutes through Celta de Vigo midfielder Stanislav Lobotka, who ghosted through the England midfield and defense and then put the ball through the ghost of Joe Hart before wheeling away in celebrations appropriate for the occasion of his first ever goal for the national team in just his third cap.

Slovakia then largely contained England’s threat and while a sweet finish from Eric Dier from one of England’s million corners leveled proceedings, the hosts were lucky to receive a crucial bit of home-field advantage in the dying moments of the half as Kyle Walker was somehow not shown a straight red card for this last-man challenge on former Manchester City winger Vladimir Weiss. (Yes, that’s Gary Cahill with the very poor attempt at intercepting the ball to set all that in motion.)

Even then, Slovakia almost grabbed a second goal at the, these days, rather Spursy national stadium before Marcus Rashford’s dipping sighter found its way into the net and gave England all three points.

The Three Lions thus jump out to a five-point lead with two games left in qualifying and would have to work tremendously hard in October (away to Lithuania, home to Slovenia) to fail to qualify for Russia 2018. Congrats, EBGC & Co.! (P.S.: Nathaniel Chalobah did not get to make his England debut.)

Another team who are getting close to qualifying for next summer’s World Cup are the Super Eagles of Nigeria, who followed up Friday’s excellent 4-0 home win over Cameroon with a credible 1-1 away draw against, once again, Cameroon. Depending on how Zambia do against Algeria on Tuesday, Nigeria could be just a point away from booking their spot by the time next month’s fixtures roll around. Victor Moses played the full game while Ola Aina, who had received his international clearance, finally, a couple days before, remained on the bench.

Elsewhere, Antonio Rüdiger had an easy day as Germany romped to a 6-0 win over Norway (to guarantee at least a spot in the qualifying playoffs), Tomáš Kalas had a not so easy day as his Czech Republic lost 2-0 to Northern Ireland, and Andreas Christensen had a boring day as he watched Denmark’s 4-1 win over Armenia.