Slovenia 0-0 England: Joe Hart stars in World Cup stalemate in Ljubljana
By Lewis Jones
Last Updated: 12/10/16 7:51am
Joe Hart came to England's rescue as they stuttered to a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw with Slovenia in Ljubljana on Tuesday.
Despite a late rally, England were second best against a team 67th in the FIFA World Rankings as the hosts were denied by a combination of the woodwork and Hart's superb goalkeeping.
Jasmin Kurtic hit the post and Hart spectacularly tipped a header onto the crossbar from the same player. The on-loan Torino man also had to be on his game to deny Josip Ilicic twice from two one-on-one situations following sloppy back-passes from England players.
Wayne Rooney, who was dropped by Gareth Southgate, was brought on with 18 minutes remaining but had little impact as England's run of 14 straight qualifying wins came to an end.
However, England remain top of Group F after taking seven points from their three games.
Southgate made the brave call of dropping his captain and record goalscorer in order to accommodate Eric Dier in the holding role, while Danny Rose replaced Ryan Bertrand at full-back.
Rooney's absence handed the captain's armband to Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson, who looked a proud man as he led the Three Lions out at the 16,000-capacity Stozice Stadium.
The hosts, who drew 2-2 in Lithuania before beating Slovakia 1-0 on Saturday, started with plenty of spark and were intent on pressing their more established opponents high up the pitch.
Slovenia's energetic start should have yielded the opening goal on 10 minutes.
Ilicic latched onto a horror Dier back-pass but Hart was quick off his line to block the chance away. England failed to clear and seconds later the ball dropped to Kurtic, who curled a sumptuous effort towards the far corner but the post came to England's rescue.
Even then, Roman Bezjak really should have buried the rebound from 10 yards but shanked his effort wide when it looked easier to score.
England player ratings
Check out our verdict on the performances of the England team against Slovenia
Despite the let-off, England rarely threatened and their front three looked disjointed. A long-range effort from Dier and another chance spurned by Daniel Sturridge were all they had to offer during an underwhelming first-half showing where they failed to register a shot on target.
After the break, Slovenia kept up the pressure and Hart again had to be at his brilliant best.
Within minutes of the restart, Kurtic flicked a header at goal from a corner and Hart was quick to bundle the ball behind.
From the next corner, he produced arguably one of the greatest saves ever seen by an England goalkeeper.
Hart's defence didn't learn from the previous corner, and the same near-post tactic was met by Kurtic with a powerful header that was flying towards the top corner until Hart flung himself into the air to flick the ball onto the bar with his right hand.
With the ball flirting with the goal-line, he then palmed it away mid-air with his left hand. Hart's momentum took him onto the base of the goal-frame but after a couple of minutes of treatment, he was fit to continue.
England needed Hart again on 69 minutes. This time, Henderson played a blind ball back to his goalkeeper that was seized upon by Ilicic. He dribbled into the area but Hart was quick to react to his low drive that was heading into the bottom corner.
Andros Townsend was introduced for Theo Walcott, which gave England a new lease of life, although their final ball continued to let them down.
The arrival of Rooney, who played in the number 10 role, coincided with England's best spell of the match.
Rose burst into the area on 76 minutes but dragged a presentable opportunity wide with his right foot.
Rooney's moment nearly came four minutes later but his 22-yard effort curled inches wide of the post.
A late England winner would have been unfair on the tenacious Slovenians, who became the first team to have more shots than England in a competitive game since Montenegro in March 2013.
Next up for Southgate's side is the home game against Scotland on Friday, November 11.