England secure 2018 World Cup berth after captain Harry Kane strikes late on dull night at Wembley

Kane enhances his claims to be handed the full-time captaincy, but 94th-minute winner fails to mask a lack of progress.

Harry Kane marked his third game as England captain with a dramatic late winner at WembleyGetty Images

It is perhaps a perfect microcosm of the current perilous state of international football and the general enthusiasm that is inspired by this current England team that they should secure qualification for the 2018 World Cup with another lifeless performance in front of a sparse crowd that once again showcased their worrying dearth of creativity.

Granted the thousands upon thousands of empty seats on display at a subdued Wembley Stadium on Thursday night (5 October) for the penultimate qualifier against Slovenia likely had something to do with a planned tube strike by London Underground drivers that was belatedly cancelled, but there is no doubt that swathes will have stayed away through sheer apathy.

Many who did attend chose to spend a significant portion of the evening fashioning their own childish entertainment in the form of paper aeroplanes that could be seen whizzing around the ground throughout the second period.

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The official attendance figure of 61,598 seemed generous in the extreme.

Approaching a year since Gareth Southgate began his initial spell as interim manager with a straightforward 2-0 victory over a vastly outmatched Malta side that were in damage limitation mode from the very beginning, preciously little seems to have changed.

As ever, England dispatch the minnows with relatively minimal fuss and generally battle tediously past mid-tier opponents before frequently being found wanting against the familiar powerhouses of world football. That latter theory will be put to the test again in November with confirmed friendlies against reigning world champions Germany and dominant South American qualifiers Brazil.

Needing just two points from their final two fixtures against Slovenia and Lithuania to guarantee routine qualification for next year's finals, England, missing the suspended Dele Alli, eventually squeezed past the former and extended their unbeaten qualifying run to 38 matches courtesy of a stoppage-time winner from temporary skipper Harry Kane - his 14th goal in nine appearances for club and country since early September. His claims to be handed the full-time captaincy continue to grow in strength.

A fan interrupted proceedings during the England versus Slovenia match at Wembley which saw the hosts win and qualify for the World CupReuters

Marcus Rashford was the lone bright spark in a first half devoid of excitement, with the Manchester United forward lining up on the left-hand side of an attacking trio behind Kane that somehow still included Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain despite his total lack of impact since swapping Arsenal for Liverpool in a £35m ($45.9m) deal during the final stages of the transfer window. Slovenian right-back Aljaz Struna has certainly had easier nights.

The visitors, curiously setting up in a defensive 4-4-2 formation from the start despite needing a victory to ensure that they remained in the hunt for a play-off spot, were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty during the early exchanges when Joe Hart dived at the feet of Atalanta playmaker Josip Ilicic and appeared to get little of the ball.

Roman Bezjak fluffed a volley from close range, while Kyle Walker sent a free-kick over the crossbar and Kane headed home from a corner long after the whistle had gone for a foul by Raheem Sterling. Jordan Henderson also tested Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak with a curving strike and a dangerous Rashford cross narrowly evaded Gary Cahill at the front post.

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Things improved little immediately after the break, with Kane allowing a searching Henderson delivery to bobble out of play off his knee and Rashford unsuccessfully trying to chip Oblak after a pacy break. Sterling had an effort cleared off the line by Bostjan Cesar and Kane flashed a shot narrowly wide.

Gareth Southgate has been in charge of the England team for a yearReuters

England later had Hart to thank for keeping the score at 0-0 after he bravely ended the purposeful run of substitute Tim Matavz, who was put clean through on goal. The decision to send on Everton defender Michael Keane in place of Sterling said a lot about Southgate's mindset, while an unadventurous back-pass from Ryan Bertrand drew the ire of a disgruntled home crowd whose biggest cheer of the night up to that point was reserved for a moronic pitch invader.

The hosts were given six minutes of additional time in which to find that elusive winner and Kane, further enhancing his ever-burgeoning reputation in a week where he has once again been linked with a high-profile switch to Real Madrid, suitably obliged by poking Walker's excellent right-wing cross under Oblak from close range after Slovenia inexplicably conceded possession inside their own half.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn reiterated during an appearance at the Leaders Sport Business Summit in London earlier today that England players "do not travel well" and that there exists a "brittleness in unfamiliar circumstances" which has to be dealt with in order to attain future success.

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It is now up to Southgate and co to prove that the Three Lions have finally learned their lesson from a succession of major tournament failures overseas and are now better equipped to avoid embarrassing exits such as the one inflicted upon them by Iceland on an utterly wretched night in Nice last summer.

Nothing witnessed at Wembley on Thursday suggested that we should expect anything different in Russia, however. Reasons for optimism are in painfully short supply, despite what the statistics might suggest and the traditional ease with which qualification was achieved.

Watching England has become a monotonous chore for the most part, as evidenced by how quickly the stadium emptied out as the players and Southgate embarked upon a low-key lap of honour after the full-time whistle. You simply cannot blame the supporters for choosing to stay away in their droves.

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