SLOVENIA(0) VS ENGLAND(1)
FABIO CAPELLO saw his England side rediscover their missing spirit – after allowing his players to drink beer the night before they booked a last 16 tie with arch-rivals Germany.
Capello’s strict disciplinary code has been questioned over the last fortnight after rumours of unrest, and let his squad enjoy a pre-match drink before yesterday’s must-win game with Slovenia.
And it worked a treat as Jermain Defoe fired a first-half winner to set up a showdown with the Germans in Bloemfontein on Sunday.
“Yesterday evening they drank beer before the game,” the Italian explained. “And I saw the team play with the spirit that we lost in the games we played before this game. The performance was really good and we created a lot of chances to score a second goal.
“This is the spirit that I remember when we played in the qualification games. I am really happy with the performance of the team. We played hard, we attacked the ball and this is important if we want to win.”
But despite the timely victory, there remained a sense of what might have been as a series of missed chances denied England the chance to top Group C.
Instead, an injury-time winner from Landon Donovan for the USA against Algeria in Pretoria, meant the Americans went through as group winners, thus claiming the easier half of the draw.
While England lock horns with old foes Germany with the possibility of Argentina to come in the quarter-finals, the USA take on Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday night in the knowledge that either they, the Ghanaians, Uruguay or South Korea are guaranteed a place in the last four.
Capello must now hatchet a plan to beat the Germans on Sunday – and he wasn’t helped by the sight of star striker Wayne Rooney limping off midway through the second half with a recurrence of an ankle injury. “I substituted Wayne because his ankle was not so good, he has some problems,” the boss admitted.
Pressed on how serious the injury was, Capello added: “I don’t know. I have to wait for the doctor but I think it will be okay for the next game on Sunday.”
Despite coming under pressure to change formation after a dismal start to the campaign, Capello stuck to his tried and tested 4-4-2, introducing Defoe and James Milner to his starting line-up, at the expense of Emile Heskey and Aaron Lennon.
And he got his immediate reward on 22 minutes when Milner broke free on the right and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Defoe to bundle home from six yards.
Confidence then seeped from every England pore as they drove forward with purpose – Frank Lampard firing high over the bar before keeper Samir Handanovic pulled off a fine save to deny captain Steven Gerrard.
Defoe then came within a whisker of doubling England’s lead just after the break before Handanovic brilliantly kept out John Terry’s bullet header and tipped a Rooney effort onto the post.
But Slovenia were by no means out of it and as the game went on, the nerves began to kick in. Milivoje Novakovic and Zlatko Dedic were both foiled by heroic England blocks from Terry and Glen Johnson before Matthew Upson made the tackle of the match to deny Dedic a free run on goal in the dying seconds as England held on.