PORT ELIZABETH, June 23 (Agencies): England’s dream lives on after they beat Slovenia 1-0 in a nerve-jangling clash in to book a place in the knockout stages.
Jermain Defoe’s first-half goal was enough to give Fabio Capello’s side a place in the last 16 and banish the ugly memories of that horror show against Algeria, as well as the recriminations that followed.
They finished in second place in Group C after a last-gasp United States winner over Algeria saw the Americans clinch top spot. And a second-round meeting with the winners of Group D now awaits.
Capello rang the changes for this make-or-break showdown, restoring James Milner on the right and bringing in Defoe to partner Wayne Rooney up front. Meanwhile, Matthew Upson lined up alongside John Terry at the centre of the defence.
And despite some nervy early moments they gradually got a foothold in the game, displaying much more purpose than in that shocking display against Algeria last Friday night.
Their reward came on 22 minutes with Milner and Defoe both justifying their inclusions by combining to fire Capello’s men ahead.
Milner delivered a tantalising cross onto the edge of the six-yard box and Defoe slipped in front of his marker to power the ball home on the volley with the outside of his right foot.
That goal gave England a massive shot in the arm and they looked like a team shorn of the pressure and frustration that had dogged their displays so far.
Frank Lampard shot over an open goal after Samir Handanovic spilled another excellent Milner cross, and then the Slovenia keeper atoned with an a superb double save to deny first Defoe and then a low curler from Steven Gerrard.
England almost doubled their advantage at the start of the second half, again with Defoe at the heart of it.
Rooney took a corner quickly and when it was cleared to the edge of the box Gerrard headed forward to find the Tottenham striker unmarked on the penalty spot. He flicked an effort with his right boot but it went agonisingly wide of the post.
Then the excellent Glen Johnson powered forward before going down under a challenge on the edge of the Slovenia box. Calls for a free-kick or a penalty came to nothing, and Johnson’s misery was complete when he was mystifyingly shown a yellow card.
England were creating chances at will now and Terry and Rooney both went close in the space of 60 seconds.
First the Chelsea skipper forced Handanovic into a fine save with a powerful back-post header from Gareth Barry’s corner.
And then Handanovic again excelled, pushing Rooney’s shot onto the post after the Manchester United man had been found unmarked on the penalty spot by a measured Lampard pass.