A Monday on the riviera in Nice will often trump a Saturday night in Paris – but England might still have preferred a trip to France’s capital and a place at the top of Group B.
Instead, they were forced to settle for second place by a Slovakia side that offered next to nothing in attack but enough resilience to secure a goalless draw.
Slovakia 0-0 England
UEFA Euro 2016
Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, St-Etienne
Monday 20 June 2016
Roy Hodgson’s side will not find out their last-16 opponents – the second-best team in Group F – until Wednesday, with Portugal, Iceland, Hungary and Austria all contenders.
The Three Lions offered plenty in terms of possession, and pinned Slovakia back continually, but their better players, with Eric Dier and Nathaniel Clyne outstanding, were not obvious match-winners.
Hodgson made six changes from the side that beat Wales on Thursday with goalscorers Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge replacing Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, and Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson coming in for Wayne Rooney and Dele Alli.
Ryan Bertrand and Clyne came in at full-back, but like Danny Rose and Kyle Walker before them, they were asked to give the Three Lions width in attack and performed admirably.
Hodgson’s switcharound also tilted club influence from five Tottenham players against Wales to four Liverpool players – five on the pitch when you count Martin Skrtel – and the combination of Reds trio Sturridge, Clyne and Henderson on the right was a major feature of the first half.
England were carving out chances from the off, with Wilshere’s superb ninth-minute pass picking out Vardy, who headed across to the edge of the six-yard box for Sturridge. What looked to be a certain goal was denied by a desperate block from left-back Peter Pekarik.
England's Daniel Sturridge evades a challenge from Slovakia's Marek Hamsik, but the Liverpool man couldn't break the deadlock
The Three Lions strikers were proving a speedy menace and when Henderson chipped forward to Vardy, the Leicester City man easily outstripped Skrtel before seeing his low shot parried by Matus Kozacik in the Slovakia goal.
Adam Lallana was doing a fine job of linking play and drifting into dangerous positions, and he had two shots parried by Kozacik.
But while most statistics indicated total dominance from England, the scoreline did not, and for the third game in a row at this tournament they went into half time without a goal in their favour.
With Wales comfortably beating Russia the pressure on England cranked a little and that showed a little when the game resumed, with Joe Hart hurried three times early on.
But Clyne was still giving Pekarik and Vladimir Weiss nightmares in attack, and drove all the way to the six-yard-box before forcing Kozacik to tip over.
Both coaches made changes before the hour mark, with Jan Kozak bringing on Dusan Svento, another left-back, to try to arrest Clyne’s advances, while Hodgson swapped Rooney and Alli for Wilshere and Lallana.
Alli made an impact with his first touch, bursting from deep and volleying Henderson’s chipped cross, but Skrtel cleared off the line.
And that familiar feeling of time running out was palpable as Slovakia did their best to crowd England’s attacks, and when Dier dropped a superb pass into the six-yard-box on 70 minutes, Sturridge could not get a toe to it.
Sturridge then made way for Kane, and England switched their formation to a diamond, with Rooney playing as a No10 behind the strikers.
Kane made a nuisance of himself, contesting high balls into the box, and Rooney probed, but Slovakia held out and this time England did not enjoy the benefit of late drama.
England (4-3-3): 1 Joe Hart (Manchester City); 12 Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), 5 Gary Cahill (Chelsea) (c), 6 Chris Smalling (Manchester United), 21 Ryan Bertrand (Southampton); 14 Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), 17 Eric Dier (Tottenham), 19 Jack Wishere (Arsenal); 8 Adam Lallana (Liverpool), 11 Jamie Vardy (Leicester), 15 Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool).
Substitutes: 10 Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) for Wilshere 55, 20 Dele Alli (Tottenham) for Lallana 60, 9 Harry Kane (Tottenham) for Sturridge 75.
Substitutes not used: 2 Kyle Walker (Tottenham), 3 Danny Rose (Tottenham), 4 James Milner (Liverpool), 7 Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), 13 Fraser Forster (GK; Southampton), 16 John Stones (Everton), 18 Ross Barkley (Everton), 22 Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), 23 Tom Heaton (GK; Burnley).
Bookings: Ryan Bertrand.
Manager: Roy Hodgson.
Slovakia (4-3-2-1): 23 Matus Kozacik; 2 Peter Pekarik, 3 Martin Skrtel (c), 4 Jan Durica, 15 Tomas Hubocan; 19 Juraj Kucka, 22 Viktor Pecovsky, 17 Marek Hamsik; 20 Robert Mak, 11 Vladimir Weiss; 8 Ondrej Duda.
Substitutes: 18 Dusan Svento for Duda 57, 5 Norbert Gyomber for Pecovsky 66, 14 Milan Skriniar for Weiss 78.
Substitutes not used: 1 Jan Mucha (GK), 6 Jan Gregus, 9 Stanislav Sestak, 10 Miroslav Stoch, 11 Adam Nemec, 12 Jan Novota (GK), 13 Patrick Hrosovsky, 16 Kornel Salata, 21 Michal Duris.
Manager: Jan Kozak.
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)