So, how likely are England to win these ties? How could the match results affect their chances of making it to Russia to fight for the world’s best-known football trophy?
England vs Malta – How will the Three Lions fare without Rooney?
If Malta were to beat England, it would be a huge surprise. The Three Lions have won all four times that the teams have met and Malta have yet to score a single point in their qualifying ties.
When the two teams faced each other at Wembley in October 2016, Daniel Sturridge scored in the 29th minute to put England ahead. Dele Alli sealed the win for the home team by netting one just nine minutes later.
On paper, England should win this match fairly easily. However, there’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion in football. It will still be one to watch, particularly as it’s the first match that the team have played since one of their most famous players retired.
Wayne Rooney, who has racked up 119 caps and 53 goals for his country, called time on his international career in August. Gareth Southgate had been considering calling him up for the Malta and Slovakia games but, in a statement published by the BBC, Rooney said it was “time to bow out”.
According to the Independent, Southgate responded to Rooney’s announcement by saying that the Everton and former Manchester United player had been “easy to hide behind”. He added that other players would now need to “grasp that initiative and responsibility”.
In terms of forwards, Southgate is expecting the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford to perform. The squad for the matches, details of which were announced last week, also includes players such as Danny Welbeck, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Jesse Lingard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Joe Hart.
Two young stars feature in the squad for the first time in their careers: Nathaniel Chalobah, who plays for Watford, and Leicester’s Harry Maguire.
England vs Slovakia – Can England Beat Their Closest Rivals Again?
England beat Slovakia in their World Cup qualifier in September 2016, but their performance was far from impressive. The only goal of the match came courtesy of Adam Lallana in injury time, when Slovakia were down to ten men. Three months earlier, Slovakia also held England to a goalless draw in the last of the Three Lions’ group stage matches at Euro 2016.
While England currently top the World Cup Qualification UEFA Group F table, they are only two points ahead of Slovakia, so this match could turn out to be a thriller. It’s set to take place exactly twelve months from the date of their last encounter, and the Three Lions will be hoping that the home crowd’s support will spur them on to victory.
Should they triumph in both their forthcoming ties, England would be in a superb position. With just two more matches left to play, they’d be close to securing one of the coveted places in the World Cup finals, so they can battle it out for the famous football trophy.
Do you think England’s performance will be affected by Wayne Rooney’s absence? What are your match predictions? Let us know below, on Twitter or on Facebook.