Welcome! So it's come to this. But you have to feel sorry for poor old JT. He was only trying to make the people happy. Consider: last time round, the players and Wags were swanning around boutiques in Baden-Baden, laden with bungalow-sized shopping bags, like it was 1967 on the Kings Raahd all over again. Peter Crouch, meanwhile, had turned into Andrew Ridgeley circa 1984. It was quite the scene, the decadent Last Days all over again.
So this time, JT aligns himself with the working classes, positioning himself as an industrial agitator. Sadly, this sort of thing doesn't play so well at the moment, not even in France. The country has has lurched violently to the right, so much so that the likes of David Cameron and even Nick Clegg have been elected into power. In any case, the Brits are a notoriously lily-livered shower when it comes to workplace politics, too craven to strike – [note to non-British readers: we're a sorry servile bunch, we don't like it up us] - and as a result, poor John's failed coup has led to him becoming the most reviled union leader in British history, ahead of the excellent Bob Crow, the much misunderstood Arthur Scargill, and Gary Neville. Poor JT! And Joe Cole's still likely to be on the bench.
Never mind. JT's still likely to be in the team, which is rumoured to be: James; Johnson, Poor Man's Gary Neville, Upson, A Cole; Barry; Milner, Lampard, Gerrard; Rooney, Defoe.
Reasons to be cheerful ahead of today's game:1. England were bloody awful in the first two games at the 1986 World Cup - as anyone who hears the name Carlos Manuel and shudders will attest - but came good in the third match. They went on to the quarters, where they were the thickness of Gary Lineker's wig away from equalising against a rocking Argentina and surely going on to win the title.2. Ditto 1990, where they didn't get started until the final minute of their fourth game, the second-round match against Belgium. And look what happened after that.3. Perhaps the most famous false start in a World Cup was made by Italy in 1982, striker Paolo Rossi barely capable of passing the ball to team-mates five yards away in the first round, never mind scoring. Enzo Bearzot's side hit form in the second phase and went on to win Espana 82, allowing the manager showcasing a swanky white blazer in the final. It really was a swanky blazer.4. Whatever happens today, despite their manifold faults, England are not France.
Reasons to be manically depressed:1. England are not Italy under Enzo Bearzot.
Kick off: 3pm.
The stadium: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth.
State of the nation: Party mode. It's a small sample, consisting of the folk on the train to Kings Cross this lunchtime, but your MBM correspondent saw: several gentlemen swilling from cans of San Miguel and talking excitedly about the World Cup; two blonde women in frankly disorienting 1980s style football shorts waving flags; and a bloke sitting on his own necking a tin of pre-mixed gin and tonic. The latter at least has to be an England supporter. Whatever, it's clear England has decided to party, just in case this turns out to have been the last chance for another four years, the country slipping into Insoucient Scotland mode from tomorrow onwards. Looking forward to the journey home, I can tell you that for free.
England promise to: Be "aggressive" and "press" a lot.
Man with red cards in his pocket, ready to go: Wolfgang Stark (Germany)
Oh, there's another team playing today, by the way. The Slovenes only let in four goals during qualifying, put Guus Hiddink and Andriy Arshavin's Russia out in the play-offs, in Valter Birsa and Robert Koren can boast two of the tournament's standout players so far, and in 25-year-old Udinese star Samir Handanovic have one of the most promising goalkeepers in the world. "We are a confident, courageous side and we will be able to face up to England," insists their quietly-spoken coach Matjaz Kek. Slovenia only need a point to make sure of qualification; England of course need to win. It is on.
OK, the teams are in. Slovenia first: 1-Samir Handanovic; 2-Miso Brecko, 4-Marko Suler, 5-Bostjan Cesar, 13-Bojan Jokic; 10-Valter Birsa, 8-Robert Koren, 18-Aleksandar Radosavljevic, 17-Andraz Kirm; 9-Zlatan Ljubijankic, 11-Milivoje Novakovic.
And now England, much as we thought: 1-David James; 2-Glen Johnson, 15-Matthew Upson, 6-John Terry, 3-Ashley Cole; 16-James Milner, 4-Steven Gerrard, 8-Frank Lampard, 14-Gareth Barry; 19-Jermain Defoe, 10-Wayne Rooney.
What England need to do: Get the battle fever on. "Is England's promise to be 'aggressive' and 'press' a lot code for the battle fever?" wonders Greig Aitken, raising the possibility that Fabio Capello and the late, great Jock Wallace have more in common than was previously thought. "But is the battle fever enough for this bunch of charlies?" wonders Greig. "Mightn't they overdo the battle fever? One recalls Kevin Keegam's invocation to 'go out and drop a few bombs' some time ago - and Paul Scholes got himself sent off inside half an hour. The application of the battle fever is a complicated business, and probably requires a physio called Archie doing some ornate - quite possibly Masonic - hand contortions on taut hamstrings."
Pre-match political puzzle: "If the unthinkable happens today, there maybe a silver lining," argues Max Pathan. "People might blame Cameron and break the ConDem coalition and bring forward the impending election. GO SLOVENIA!" Given England's capitulation to West Germany in the 1970 quarter finals is supposed to have done for Harold Wilson in the election four days later, ushering in the Ted Heath era, there may be something in this. Go Slovenia, then? Anyone? Hello?
England's battle fever II: "Oh dear," sighs Marco Bonfiglio. "As has already been detailed, Keegan's attempt to impue BF into the peerless Scholes resulted in 60 minutes of 10-man football. As for uttering the word 'battle' within Terry's hearing, and within ten yards of Gerrard, it can only result in England spending - at best - the majority of the second half fighting a nine-man rearguard action." Let's hope Rooney's had his iPod on all morning, eh.
Jitters various. "I work for the Home Office, and the build-up to this is making me more nervous than George Osborne with a red briefcase," writes Alex Warwick, veering dangerously close to Julian Clary territory. Jock Urquhart adds: "Did you catch Lee Dixon saying that the reason Capello should be naming the team earlier is so that players who are playing can kick every ball in their head the night before? I hadn't realised that was what was wrong with England until now - they're trying to play in their sleep! Here's hoping that they wake up today." And Justin Kavanagh wonders: "What must be the state of the Terry ego today? Having been totally emasculated by management, could we see The Real England Captain flying in recklessly to prove His Self? Giving it the big I AM SO! Cometh the hour, cometh the egocentric meltdown?" Dear lord, you lot aren't very hopeful of England's ability to harness the battle fever, are you? It's a positive thing: that other famous English national side, Rangers, won the Skol Cup final that caused Wallace to catch the battle fever.
Some good news, straight from the horse's mouth: "So I hear the English fear the German ref at this crucial stage," notes Radbert Grimmig. "Well, let it be a consolation that while they fuss mightily over this supposed English-German football rivalry, it doesn't even exist for most of us. Not least since we're too busy despising the Dutch side."
Possibly Ill-Advised Detour Into Politics II: "Please don't mention John Terry and a real working class hero like Bob Crow in the same breath," insists Ian Burch. "Bob has a dog named Castro while Terry couldn't even organise a revolution in Guatemala."
Anyway, it is on! The teams walk out onto the pitch, England in their lucky red shirts, Slovenia in white tracksuit tops zipped right up under the chin like Liam Gallagher circa 1994. Click, clack, pluckity ball from plinth, cheer, parp, wavity flag, cheer. The state of journalism today, eh. "John Terry could not organise a revolution on a merry-go-round," notes Sean Cassidy.
Will you look at the state of this! It's on his Twitter page today. England are missing this bloke, as well. I've been alerted to this while the national anthem is parping out; it's quite the moment. I'm standing up while I type, obviously.
And we're off! Slovenia, in all-white, like Real Madrid, set the ball rolling. "Dutch-German football rivalry? Ha!" interjects Johan van Slooten. "I thought that was purely a Dutch thing, but apparently some Germans feel some rivalry towards us as well, as the wonderfully named Radbert Grimmig wrote earlier. Grimmig is Dutch for bleak, dim or gloomy. Quite appropriate for a German football fan, I think." Now, now everyone, let's play nicely. It's the English way!
30 seconds: England have already misplaced one pass out of defence, the ball breaking to Birsa, who attempts to loop the ball into the area but fails dismally. The authors of that flag above have it damn straight.
2 min: Koren sniffs around the feet of Johnson, whose clearance is blocked. The England defender gets a second chance to hack upfield, and takes it. A nervous start by the English.
4 min: Johnson and Milner attempt a one-two down the right. The move comes off, but Johnson clatters into Kirm and the referee blows up for a free kick. You can hear the England band playing The Great Escape. Will somebody turn the vuvuzelas up, please?
5 min: Johnson has endured a shaky start. He clatters into Kirm again, and is lucky to escape a booking. The referee explains to him that he's on thin ice.
7 min: Terry gives the ball straight to Novakovic, 35 yards out in the centre. The striker plays the ball out right to Birsa, but puts far too much on it, the pass sailing out of play. A lucky escape, with only three back in red shirts. A few exchanges later, Birsa finally gets on the ball, cutting inside from the right wing and attempting a curler towards the bottom left. The effort's lame, though, going straight down James' throat.
9 min: The referee is giving England a fair chance, here. Barry clatters into the back of Radosavljevic; it's a booking surely, but the card doesn't come out. "Why are so few England players capable of kicking a ball properly?" wonders Gary Naylor, checking out the panoramic view so you can keep the myopic goggles on for 90 minutes. "They are not alone in this World Cup in this, but England do seem particularly bad. Did Denis Bergkamp, or even Matt le Tissier, ever scuff it?"
11 min: A ball's swung in from the left by Rooney to the far post, where Gerrard awaits. The ball's flicked out for a corner before it gets to the England captain, but that was a delicious cross. The corner's wasted, cleared with ease by the head of Cesar.
13 min: Slovenia pass it around awhile in the centre, getting nowhere. The England fans are really making themselves heard, one of the loudest hubbubs in the tournament so far. Shame about the tunes, but you can't have it all.
15 min: From a free kick nearly 40 yards out, Lampard takes a pop at goal. Can you guess what happened? Well, you'd be wrong. He actually gets it on target, the ball swerving low in the air, Handanovic getting his body behind it to claim well.
16 min: England are beginning to look dangerous. Rooney plays a clever pass down the inside-left channel for Lampard, rushing into the area from the middle. He can't quite get to the ball, the keeper coming out to gather. But this is already a vast improvement from the English, low bar notwithstanding.
18 min: Radosavljevic hesitates on the edge of the Slovenia area. Rooney nips in, shifts the ball right, and takes a whack that's deflected out for a corner on the right. From it, Terry gets his head to the ball at the near post, sending an effort wide left. But the referee points for another corner! However England can't take advantage of the whistler's largesse. "Frank Lampard cannot spit," reports Ian Copestake. "Preparing to take that freekick he clearly dropped one out without any power and had to backtrack and reel the poor bugger back in. That's what nerves do for you." Thank God the lunchtime matches have finished.
20 min: But England are cranking up the pressure, Johnson cutting inside from the right and unleashing a low bouncing shot straight at Handanovic.
21 min: Finally Slovenia show themselves up front. Ljubijankic drifts down the right, forcing Terry to slide in and concede the corner. From it, the ball's worked to the left wing, from where a cross is thrown in. Cesar manages a flicked header goalwards, but James is well behind it. Considering the pressures both sides are under, this is a nice open game, this.
23 min: GOAL!!! Slovenia 0-1 England. This had been coming. From tight on the right sideline, Milner curls a wonderful cross into the six-yard box. In the centre, rushing in, Defoe can't miss, connecting firmly with the ball and blasting it straight past Handanovic, who could do nothing about it. Did that come off Defoe's right shin? Possibly. Actually, yes. He's very unlikely to care, though.
25 min: You couldn't really say Slovenia have done much wrong here. England have simply been very impressive so far, first to most balls in the middle of the park, determined down either wing. "Slovenia in their kit all look like Charlie Brown from Peanuts," notes Liam P. "And the running joke was Charlie Brown never got to kick a football despite endless trying. An omen?"
27 min: What a miss by - yes - Lampard. Milner and Defoe so nearly combine to replicate the goal, but Handanovic manages to palm the ball out to the edge of the area before it reaches the striker. Lampard is on hand to surely slot home into an empty net, the keeper stranded, but he reverts to type and shanks an England shot into the stand behind the goal.
30 min: Oh my, this should really be 2-0. First Handanovic parries a Defoe shot from 12 yards. Rooney takes up the rebound to the left of goal and feeds Gerrard in the centre. The captain tries to pass the ball into the right-hand corner of the net, but Handanovic dives to save brilliantly, snaffling it after two attempts. That was outstanding goalkeeping. And very attractive football from England, who are bossing this completely now. "What a relief that Defoe's shins are more accurate than Heskey's," writes Ian Copestake, breathing out at last.
34 min: Slovenia put a few passes together, taking the sting out of the match for a while. Brecko nips down the right, and is hauled back by Cole. That'll be a free kick, 35 yards out on the wing. Can the Slovenes do anything with this rare chance?
35 min: No.
36 min: Milner's been very impressive down the right. He swings in another cross, forcing Brecko to squat down at the far post and chest out for a corner. England do nothing with it. "England are doing well because the pitch is poor," opines Mark Dougherty, giving little credit. "They are used to playing on a ploughed field called Wembley."
38 min: David James has had nothing to do. Slovenia won't care too much at the moment: with the USA and Algeria drawing 0-0, as things stand both these teams are going through.
40 min: Suler heads weakly back to his keeper. Defoe is lurking, but the wee man was never going to get to the ball before Handanovic, who plucks from the air right on the edge of his area.
41 min: Jokic is booked for a late challenge on Johnson down the right wing. He'll miss the next game should Slovenia progress. "I rather like the fact that Slovenia's shirts feature their national symbol, the triple-summit-mountain Triglav (three heads)," writes Jan Krcmar. "I just wonder whether this idea could be exported to other competing nations. England could have a skyline of huge footballers mansions (complete with burglars). The dutch would just have a flat line on their shirt I suppose." John Terry could have a single arrow on the front pointing down to his shorts, perhap? He could wear it out in the evening.
43 min: Kirm swings a long free kick into the England box from the left. James punches nervously into the air, under pressure from Ljunijankic, but the striker's offside. Slovenia have been hopeless so far.
HALF TIME: Slovenia 0-1 England. Slovenia try to pressurise the English back line down the wings, but both Johnson and Cole mop every ball up with ease. And that's it for the half. Handanovic goes off arguing with the referee, all Cruyff at the 1974 World Cup final, though I have no idea why. "May I just say how good it is to see Terry's call to play with one striker and Joe Cole vindicated, what with Cole being the only player who can unlock defences and all that," notes Nicholas Grundy. "Poor Milner and Defoe will probably never play for England again."
And we're off again! "Will Slovenia be panicked into taking off their number 17 or will they keep Kirm and carry on?" asks Oliver Dennis, who's here for the next 45 minutes, if not all week. No changes. England start like a train, winning a corner on the left. From it, Handanovic punches to the edge of the box, only for the ball to be headed straight back by Lampard. Defoe, onside, attempts to steer the bouncing ball into the bottom-right corner, but guides it just wide. Slovenia are all over the shop, already. Keeping Kirm ma hat.
47 min: Johnson twists and turns down the right, then runs into Cesar's leg on the edge of the area. He goes down like a sack of spuds, and is booked for his trouble. The BBC lads are livid with this outrage, but he went down very easily, the defender offering no challenge. Seemed fair enough to me.
50 min: Lampard plays a ball down the inside left for Rooney, springing him clear in the area. He squares for Defoe, who taps home. Sadly for England, both men were offside. "In light of your suggestion for John Terry's shirt design," writes Anthony Pease, "Emile Heskey could wear a similar one, only with the arrow on the back and another pointing to his elbow."
52 min: Johnson turns inside from the right wing and sends a peachy cross towards the far post. It flies this much over Rooney's head and out of play. This is all England at the moment. James has had to deal with a couple of speculative crosses from the Slovenes in this half, but nothing dramatic. "After Capello urging Barry to provide what England are missing," writes Michael Hunt, "I was delighted to see him taking the jumping-on-the-goal-scorer's-back-to-celebrate-like-you-had-anything-to-do-with-the-goal role left dangerously vacant since Rio went home."
53 min: James needed to deal with this one, mind, Birsa hammering a free kick in from the right. The keeper got solidly behind the curling effort. "My memories of WC2006 are of countless speculative attempts by Lampard and Ballack to greedily try a solo master-blaster into the net," recalls Laurence Welford. "Every attempt, from either of them, failed. We are spared of Mr Ballack's ambition this time around, but Lamps is still at it, with some spectacularly disappointing misses (today as well). Just when DID our Frankie-Boy last succeed at such a master-blaster in an England Shirt? And out of how many attempts? Granted, it's a different story when he has a Chelski shirt on, but that's not my point."
54 min: Rooney and Gerrard one-two furiously on the left-hand edge of the Slovenia area. Rooney cuts inside and looks to shoot, but Radosavljevic comes back to clear up. England certainly look like they've got another goal in them. This display might not be a World Cup winning one, but it's miles ahead of the shows against the USA and Algeria.
57 min: Another dangerous Milner cross from the right, forces Suler into a diving defensive header, conceding a corner on the right. From the set piece, Terry meets it at the far post, welting a majestic effort goalwards from a tight angle. Handanovic is on hand, though, to parry clear. What a save! Here's Jonathan McCauley-Oliver on Ian Burch's pre-match comments regarding working-class hero Bob Crow. "Is this the same Bob Crow who got himself beered up in corporate hospitality at the Dagenham & Redbridge – Morecambe playoff semi-final and then proceeded to hurl abuse at the legend that is Sammy McIllroy? Bob Crow is no more a hero than I am writing this from the moon." Well, you wouldn't want to sit next to him at the match. And he was pretty poor on Have I Got News For You, too. But that's not really the point, is it? The members of his union seem to enjoy decent-enough wages and conditions. What else do you want him to do? Wear a cape?
58 min: Rooney is set clear in the area with only the keeper to beat, the ball bouncing from the right into the centre. He takes the ball down and scuffS it past Handanovic - but onto the left-hand post. I think the keeper might have got fingertips on that. Slovenia are otherwise a complete shambles.
62 min: A change for Slovenia, who haven't had to deal with an almighty scramble in their box for four minutes now: Ljubijankic off, Dedic on. "If Ingerland go through can we cue up delusional mass hysteria once again?" asks Kevin Dev. Be my guest. It's got nothing to do with us. [Legal disclaimer: it probably does have something to do with us.]
64 min: Handanovic comes out for a couple of England corners, flapping wildly. He's had a very strange game, the keeper. Some great saves, some ludicrous decisions coming off his line as well. "Bob Crow beering it up at Dagenham and Redbridge v Morecambe?" splutters Sean DeLoughry. "That's champagne socialism, right there, and no mistake."
65 min: Birsa - Slovenia's best outfield player - takes a skelp from distance. James again shows a safe pair of hands.
67 min: What a catalogue of errors at the back from England! Slovenia, who are finally showing something up front, break forward. First Kirm has a shot, then Dedic, then Birsa, all in a matter of seconds. Terry and Johnson combine to make a series of heroic - Crowesque - blocks, before Birsa swipes wide from 12 yards.
70 min: For the first time, this game is looking like a level contest. Are England getting nervous? They concede a free kick 40 yards out, centrally. Birsa takes a ludicrous shot at goal; it flies miles wide left and high. "Time to count the chickens, who have we got in the next round? This lot are done!" chirrups a fate-mocking Rob Douglas, who I'm saying resides in Scotland.
72 min: Rooney, frowning, makes his way for Joe Cole. The England support erupts.
75 min: Slovenia spent a few minutes with the battle fever on then, but that little period seems to have blown over. England are seeing a lot of the ball again, albeit without creating anything. They'll be happy enough with that. "Unlike the vast majority of referees, this guy seems to know the rules and understand how to apply them," opines Gary Naylor. "Give him the Final." I'd go with that, other than the fact Germany may actually be in it. He's not put a foot wrong yet. On the BBC, Guy Mowbray seems to think he's somehow anti-English, complaining about every single peep of the whistle that goes against the men in red. Let's hope he isn't asked to do his turn on the day of the Final, the jingoistic goon. If not, I'll be watching ITV. Even if they give it to Peter Drury.
78 min: England are pinning Slovenia back now. Fabio Capello looks very calm on the sidelines. Kirm is replaced by Matavz. Here's a primal scream from Steve Howard: "In response to Laurence Welford (53 mins), FrankLampard had had 31 shots on goal in his World Cup career going into this game. Only one person has had more (33) in world cup history. He's already missed once more so far this game, so all he needs to do is miss a shot on goal 2 more times (should be easy for him) and he will be the record-holding worst-person-of-all-time at shooting on goal in all world cup history. He also had 24 shots on goal last world cup without scoring (the most of any player in that tournament). Please, please, for the love of God, why won't he just STOP!!! Pass the bloody ball to someone else! Bloody clown!"
79 min: Birsa is booked for kicking the ball away in a fit of pique at a handball decision that went against him.
80 min: Now Dedic is booked for hacking down Lampard. Slovenia are losing the place a wee bit here, though they're still going through, the USA-Algeria game goalless. "Rob Douglas (68 mins) is being too cautious. Who do you get in the final? On this performance, no-one can stop England!" writes Billy Williamson. This ploy is already fully transparent.
83 min: Suler slides in majestically on Defoe, who was hanging around the centre circle like a 13-year-old outside the shops. The referee gets something wrong at last, blowing for a free kick. In other news, Mowbray is still talking. "This is absolutely unbearable," he says. That's the first thing he's called right all evening.
85 min: Defoe is replaced by Heskey.
86 min: With the England area loaded after a Slovenia corner, Brecko bounds in down the right and hits the worst shot in the entire history of the World Cup. My God. England were worried there, and very pleased to see the ball sliced straight out of the stadium.
87 min: Joe Cole cuts in from the left and hits a poor shot out of play. Then England win a corner down the right, but waste it. "Keep Heskey the hell away from the England penalty area," pleads Peter McGushin. "He hasn't scored for a long, long time."
88 min: Johnson brings Novakovic down on the left wing. The free kick's slung into the box. After a mild bout of playground scuffing, the ball's eventually hacked clear, Heskey playing a big part, Peter McGushin will be no doubt pleased to hear.
90 min: Woah! What a saving tackle by Upson, in his own area, as Matavz prepared to pull the trigger from just inside the box! For a second there, England's life flashed before their very eyes. "Surely what Billy Williamson means to ask is who will have the honour of being used by England to wipe the floor in the final," writes Josh Robinson. "There's not a team in the galaxy that can get near them on this form."
90 min +1: There will be three added minutes. The first has elapsed, Milner and Joe Cole sharing the duties of wasting time down the right.
90 min +2: England are keeping the ball in the corner calmly and cleverly. "The Whistler's Largesse (see your 18th minute) would be a great title for an 19th-century Cornish smuggler novel," suggests Nicola Barr. Or a great Jethro Tull album.
FULL TIME: Slovenia 0-1 England. And that's it for England!!! And what's more, that's it for Slovenia, as the USA have scored what is surely a winner in injury time!!! Slovenia can't really complain, as they were almost uniformly dreadful in this game. England weren't wonderful, as such... but they did what they have to do, putting in a much improved performance.
And the USA have beaten Algeria! Which means they top the group, and England come second. Whether that's good news or not for England we'll only know when Germany have settled their fate. And we all want England v Germany in the second round, right?
Breaking Bob Crow news: "A 48-hour strike by London Underground maintenance workers will go ahead after the High Court refused to grant an injunction preventing the stoppage. Tube Lines had challenged the legality of the ballot carried out by the Rail Maritime and Transport union. The walkout over pay, jobs and conditions is due to start at 7pm today. Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting in London, said he had reached a 'clear view' that he should not grant an injunction but gave no immediate reasons for his decision." Go England! Go Bob! More things on which I'm sure we all can agree.
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.