Defoe fires England through
First-half strike enough to seal win over Slovenia
Last Updated: June 24, 2010 5:25am
Defoe scores the crucial goal in the first half
England produced a vastly improved performance to beat Slovenia 1-0 and progress to the last 16 as Group C runners-up.
The Three Lions needed to win after being held to disappointing draws by USA and Algeria in their opening two World Cup games, and responded with a dynamic display full of urgency and slick passing.
Two of the players brought into the side by Fabio Capello combined for the crucial goal on 22 minutes as James Milner delivered a superb cross from the right wing and Jermain Defoe provided the finishing touch.
England continued to dominate possession and carved out a number of good opportunities to double their advantage, with Samir Handanovic repelling Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney with athletic saves, and Defoe also flicking an effort wide.
Slovenia did carry a threat on the counter-attack and anxiety would have been spreading among England supporters as their team failed to take a more comfortable lead.
However, England stayed solid in defence and held on to the final whistle to make it through to the next round, with Slovenia dramatically bowing out as a result of USA's last-gasp winner against Algeria.
It has almost been forgotten it is so long ago but right at the beginning of England's World Cup qualifying campaign, Defoe was a starter for Capello.
Hauled off after a goalless 45 minutes against Andorra in Barcelona, Defoe was condemned to the role of impact substitute for the remainder of the qualifiers, admittedly scoring three times in the process.
Milner's wound is much fresher. Always a Capello favourite, the Aston Villa man was asked to plug a hole on the left of England's midfield for the opening encounter with the United States.
Given a right old chasing by Carlos Bocanegra, the 24-year-old was hauled off after half an hour and must have wondered if he would see any more action in South Africa.
Capello is intensely loyal though. Deciding he needed more solidity defensively than Aaron Lennon can provide, the Italian turned to Milner for the right-sided role.
His early contribution was riddled with mistakes. But the cross he swung deep into the Slovenia box midway through that opening period was almost Beckham-esque.
Defoe had made his way into the danger zone, like any instinctive marksman would, got just in front of Marko Suler and stuck out his leg, prodding the ball goalwards with enough power to get it past Handanovic, who did nearly make a save.
It had taken Defoe 23 minutes to achieve what Emile Heskey had managed once in eight years; a competitive goal.
Visibly, the pressure lifted from English shoulders. The high-tempo, quick passing, tigerish pressing game Capello had yearned for, and which temperatures of a South African winter suit so well suddenly appeared, and so did the opportunities.
Frank Lampard and skipper Gerrard had the first couple before half-time, the Liverpool man knowing he would have scored if he had put more power behind a side-footed effort that failed to beat Handanovic after a hitherto quiet Rooney had provided the superb square ball.
Capello cut a frustrated figure when, eight yards out and completely unmarked, Defoe made no contact after Gareth Barry had lofted a pass into a Slovenia penalty area in a state of confusion thanks to some selfless running from Rooney.
John Terry brought a brilliant save out of Handanovic when he rose to meet Barry's corner at the far post before Rooney struck the base of a post after his unchecked run into the penalty area had been spotted by Lampard.
It was sumptuous fare lifted directly from the Premier League, the kind of football that prompted Capello to make his "crazy" claim that England could reach the final of this grand and prestigious tournament in Soccer City on 11th July.
In a week for apologies and forgiveness, the England supporters responded by showing they bore no hard feelings for Rooney's rant in Cape Town by chanting his name with gusto, although on the second occasion it was for their talisman's exit - unhappily - to make way for Joe Cole to make his long-awaited bow.
Amid the euphoria at finding a team, one fairly large problem was being overlooked.
England's lead remained stuck at one and could so easily be snatched away.
Had first Terry, then Glen Johnson, not thrown themselves in front of Slovenian shots, the smallest country in the tournament would have had their equaliser and England would have been out.
For Slovenia, events elsewhere would give them cause for huge regret. For England, pride was restored - and a sigh of relief could be breathed.
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|3||Shots on Target||8|
|4||Shots off Target||4|