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England must break down solid Slovenia

Three Lions may need patience

Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak plays for Atletico Madrid
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World Cup qualifiers

World Cup qualifying finishes with the October double-headers and here's what fans of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Ireland can expect in their opening matches this week.

England v Slovenia Thursday, 7.45pm
The reverse fixture finished 0-0 and Slovenia's main strength is their defence, with Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak one of the best in the world.

A whopping 18 of their last 20 matches have finished with under 2.5 goals. The two to go over the goals line came against Lithuania and that run includes fixtures against San Marino and Malta.

Defender Bostjan Cesar is the joint-top goalscorer in the squad with ten but the continued absence of Kevin Kampl robs Slovenia of arguably their biggest outfield talent.


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Kampl has had numerous bust-ups with coach Srecko Katanec and angered the national team boss by prioritising his transfer from Leverkusen to Leipzig during the September qualifiers.

"I would not even comment on him, he is not on the list," said Katanec on naming his squad for Wembley.

But Slovenia probably need to win this game and they failed to register a shot on target in the recent 1-0 loss to Slovakia.

Scotland v Slovakia Thursday, 7.45pm
This is a huge game in the race for the playoff spot with second-placed Slovakia one point ahead of Slovenia and Scotland.

Experienced goalkeeper Matus Kozacik returns from injury and 22-year-old centre-back Milan Skriniar has made a strong start to life at San Siro after a big-money move from Sampdoria to Inter.

Skriniar was used as a midfielder in Slovakia's 2-1 defeat at Wembley and that is their area of main strength with Celta Vigo's Stanislav Lobotka seamlessly moving up from the Under-21s and Napoli's class act Marek Hamsik pulling the strings.

Michal Duris and Dusan Svento are injured but won't be huge absentees from a talented team who could well play their part in an entertaining contest.

Northern Ireland v Germany Thursday, 7.45pm
It has been an easy group for Germany with Azerbaijan currently third in the standings but the world champions have still been utterly ruthless with a perfect eight wins and goal difference of plus 33.

Manuel Neuer would be a costly absentee for most nations but Joachim Low can still call upon Kevin Trapp, Bernd Leno and Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the goalkeeping department.

Squad depth is key for Germany, as was highlighted when their makeshift squads won the Confederations Cup and European Under-21 Championship in the summer and there are some brilliant young players who Michael O'Neill must attempt to nullify.

Leroy Sane and Leon Goretzka are two of them, while the emergence of the speedy Timo Werner makes Germany arguably a bigger threat than when they became world champions in Brazil.

Leipzig forward Werner has scored six times in eight caps and Northern Ireland's best chance of a result is to hope the Bayern Munich contingent including Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels bring their dodgy club form with them.

Georgia v Wales Friday, 5pm
The Group D table in World Cup qualifying shows Georgia have only five points on the board but it would be totally wrong for Wales to underestimate a team who have the potential to surprise.

Wales already know that to their cost after Georgia took a deserved point from their trip to Cardiff last year. They have also taken points against Austria and Ireland, while Georgia beat Spain in a friendly in 2016.

Most of Georgia's best work goes through Spartak Moscow's Jano Ananidze and Wales are easily avoided at short odds.

Ireland v Moldova Friday 7.45pm
The mood at the Aviva will depend largely on the earlier Welsh result but either way Martin O'Neill's men should take qualification down to the final fixture by easily rolling over Moldova in Dublin.

Moldova have become genuine international minnows with only two wins in their last 33 matches and those rare successes came against fellow whipping boys San Marino and Andorra.

Their last five competitive away matches have ended in defeats to nil and experienced players such as Petru Racu (44 caps), Alexandru Gatcan (55), Igor Tigrillos (23) are not in the squad.


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Slovenia's main strength is their defence, with Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak one of the best in the world
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