England reached the last 16 of the World Cup with a goal from Jermain Defoe that saw them come second in Group C behind the USA. An inability to extend the lead caused severe tension and the side would have been knocked out if Matthew Upson's tackle had not stopped the substitute Zlatko Dedic from claiming an equaliser.
England, as it was, won their first game at this tournament by looking as if they were engaged in a wholly different competition. The side gave a display of high-tempo football redolent of a Premier League afternoon in winter. It may not be an approach that will ever lead to greatness but it was necessary to bring Fabio Capello's side back to a semblance of purpose and order.
The lack of incisive finishing imposed a terrible strain when Slovenia went in search of an equaliser in the final minutes, but England at least had more purpose than in the earlier matches. The line-up had James Milner on the right as the emphasis was put on measured deliveries from that flank rather the raw pace that epitomises the demoted Aaron Lennon.
A deliberately frantic tone was also of use to Defoe, a poacher selected as Wayne Rooney's partner instead of the target man Emile Heskey. The combination in attack was also the one Capello had favoured for his first competitive match in charge, the 2-0 victory over Andorra in Barcelona. The challenge was very restricted in that qualifier and there is no comparison with an able Slovenia, except that England were convinced that Matjaz Kek's side would dislike the bustle and intent shown here.
Shortly before the opener, Slovenia were forced to endure a series of corners. The strain seemed to tell and in the 22nd minute, Defoe got in front of Marko Suler to convert a Milner cross. The Aston Villa midfielder then piloted another ball into the goalmouth and Samir Handanovic needed to pull off saves from Rooney and then, in a fumbling fashion, Steven Gerrard.
There was little then to quibble with in an organised and brisk England display, except that they were slow to reap the full reward. It did take a tight offside decision against Rooney to thwart them when the Manchester United attacker's low ball left Defoe to find the net. The sole defect lay in an incapacity to make the most of the mastery.
There was no reproach, all the same, when John Terry's header from a Barry corner was parried by Handanovic in the 57th minute. Almost immediately, it took the brush of the goalkeeper's fingers to deflect a Rooney shot against the post after the forward had been released by Frank Lampard.
Any misgivings stemmed from the knowledge that Slovenia had endured a great deal before overcoming Russia to reach this tournament. They were heartened still to be in contention and Valter Birsa's efforts had to be blocked by Terry and then Glen Johnson in the 65th minute.
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