MATCH-WINNER Jermain Defoe hailed the spirit of his England team-mates after firing the Three Lions into the last 16.
The Tottenham striker was given the nod for his first World Cup start ahead of Emile Heskey and Peter Crouch and repaid his manager’s faith with a predatory 22nd-minute finish to fire England through to the knockout stages.
“The belief was always there,” Defoe explained. “It was always going to be difficult but we kept the spirit and it showed tonight.
“We won the game and that is the most important thing. At the end of the day, it was a Cup Final – a must win game – and all the lads were fired up in the dressing room. We felt the pressure but to get the goal early on was brilliant.
“We had fantastic support and I am delighted four our fans. We proved ourselves tonight as the fans were a bit disappointed with us after the Algeria game.
“I am lost for words about scoring the winner – it’s something you dream about.”
But while Defoe was the hero at one end of the pitch, another World Cup full debutant
stole the plaudits at the other after Matthew Upson produced a perfectly-timed last-ditch
tackle to deny Zlatko Dedic a clear route to goal.
“It was just a reaction really, the ball got played into the box and it was flicked on to the inside of me and I just took the opportunity,” the West Ham defender said modestly. “It had to be timed right and I was really pleased I was able to.
“There were lots of opportunities in the game and every minute we had to make decisions and there was always something to think about. It was just the reaction that was pleasing.”
Meanwhile, Slovenia boss Matjaz Kek is tipping England to go all the way in the competition after he was impressed with their display in Port Elizabeth. “I hope England win at the World Cup and I think England are a favourite,” he said. “They played well but at the end we could have levelled and made a draw. Sport is very unpredictable.
“I am proud that I have come so far with with this Slovenia side.”