England moved one win away from completing a perfect qualification campaign for Euro 2016 after beating Estonia 2-0 at Wembley on Friday. Already guaranteed a place at the finals in France next year as group winners, Roy Hodgson’s side rarely got out of second gear but, courtesy of goals from Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling, still had enough to ease past their visitors and make it nine wins from nine matches in Group E. The defeat for Estonia, meanwhile, means they now require Slovenia to lose to San Marino in the final round of matches to have a chance of making a playoff berth.
This was a creditable performance, however, from Estonia. Magnus Pehrsson’s side defended with commitment and when their lines were breached, goalkeeper Mihkel Aksalu was often there to make a string of impressive saves. Yet, in truth, England struggled to play with any consistent intensity. Their best move of the match resulted in the crucial opening goal right before halftime. Ross Barkley picked out Walcott, running in behind the defense just onside, with a superb through ball through the legs of a defender. Walcott opened up his body with his first touch and then finished coolly to get his eighth goal for England and seventh goal in his last nine outings for club and country.
The game then appeared to be drifting toward its seemingly inexorable conclusion in the second half. But England did add some sheen to the score with five minutes remaining when freshly arrived substitute Jamie Vardy capitalized on a defensive slip from Taijo Teniste and raced onto the ball before unselfishly squaring for Sterling to turn into the roof of the net.
There was little else to excite a large crowd at Wembley. Perhaps that was unsurprising, given that Hodgson admitted before the game that upcoming high-profile friendlies against France and Spain would be far more significant as preparation for next year’s European Championship. His players subsequently struggled to make the contest much more than a glorified training exercise.
Still, Walcott and particularly Barkley, who caught the eye with several nice touches and was close on more than one occasion to finding the net, will hope to have left a possible impression. Harry Kane, though, failed to net on his first competitive start in place of the injured Wayne Rooney. The Tottenham striker will now hope for another chance to make his mark when England round off their qualification campaign away to Lithuania on Monday.