After Saturday's game, the England players as one applauded Emile Heskey
After Saturday's game, the England players as one applauded Emile Heskey as he trudged, soaked to the bone and plastered in mud, to the sanctuary of the visiting dressing room
Emile had had to face horrendous abuse from the Slovakian fans but the way in which he reacted to those taunts and the challenge of playing on a pitch the like of which he will not have experienced since his schooldays were ample evidence that Emile has come of age on the international stage.
His tireless running, strength and ability to hold the ball were all key ingredients in England's win and his team-mates were well aware of the big man's contribution.
The scorer of the winning goal, Michael Owen, had been described by Heskey as ``probably the best striker in the world'' in the build-up to the Group Seven encounter and he was quick to return the compliment to his Liverpool colleague.
He said: ``I thought Emile was brilliant and it was the type of game for that sort of player to do well in. ``I got bogged down a bit in those conditions. It was hard to use your speed. It took a lot of energy out of me and I was not as effective as I would have liked.
``But for Emile it was great but that was always going to be his type of game, a physical type of contest and he showed his power and strength and just how good he can be.''
The returning Gary Neville echoed Owen's sentiments and said: ``Emile was magnificent for us in the second half.
``He did a lot of difficult jobs for us in terms of holding the ball up, getting crosses in and making life very awkward for their defenders.''
Coach Sven Goran Eriksson added: ``Emile was very strong and kept the ball well. He was excellent in the second half but all of the team did well.
``I don't know if that is his best performance for England because he has played well before.
``He has not got the qualities of David Beckham but he has other qualities and he is very important to us.''
The man himself was happy with his individual performance and the collective victory. Emile said: ``We had to get used to the pitch. it was very boggy and I don't think I've played on a pitch like that since I was at school. We couldn't play the passing game that we wanted to.
``But at half-time the manager said they had given their all in the first 45 minutes whereas he knew that we could step things up a gear - which we did.
``They tired a bit in the second half and we took over and showed we were the better team. I felt that probably my best game for England was early on in my career against Argentina at Wembley but I enjoyed that as well.
``I was glad to be back upfront. That is my preferred position and I like to score goals but, as I have said many times before, if the boss wants me to play out on the left or the right then I will do so for the team.
``People can criticise me but as long as my managers at club and international level are happy then that's all that concerns me.
``I was just pleased to help us to get off to a winning start in our group. We've had to play catch-up in recent years after losing the first game of our qualifying group but now we have to build on Saturday's result.''
That starts Wednesday at St. Mary's and, if Emile puts in another performance like Saturday's, we might need to start calling him Saint Emile!
From Daniel Freedman in Southampton