England reach the last 16
Wednesday, 23 June, 2010
England qualify from Group C after a 1-0 victory over Slovenia.
Stuart Mawhinney in Port Elizabeth
England entered their final Group C game against Slovenia knowing that only victory would be enough to guarantee them a place in the World Cup’s last 16 and they did not let the thousands of Three Lions fans in Port Elizabeth down, after Jermain Defoe secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
Playing in all red kits England began brightly with bite in the tackle and a genuine sense of urgency about every move.
Birsa had the first shot in anger for Slovenia proving the potent threat they possessed on the counter.
England showed their own ability to attack swiftly as Glen Johnson swept a superb pass to Rooney and the Manchester United forward's cross was only narrowly diverted from the approaching Gerrard at the back post.
With the crowd in full voice in late afternoon sunshine Frank Lampard almost provided the ideal opener with a superbly struck free kick.
Striking the ball with power, Lampard did everything right but sadly Handanovic was equal to the effort and kept a firm grip on the ball.
Rooney then came close with a deflected shot after some dogged work on the edge of the area by Matthew Upson. From the resulting corner John Terry was unfortunate not to get on the end of Gareth Barry's cross.
And the centre-back was on hand to make a crucial intervention moments later as Slovenia broke swiftly.
After 23 minutes England were ahead, Defoe starting his first World Cup match showed his striking instincts to get on the end of a superb cross from James Milner.
Firing the ball with dip and pace, Milner presented a glorious chance and Defoe did not turn it down. Getting to the ball first and volleying it through the hands of the Slovenian stopper, Defoe gave the Three Lions the start they wanted.
Buoyed with fresh impetus having taken the lead Lampard should have made it two. Milner swung another cross that Handanovic couldn't handle and with the goal gaping Lampard fired over.
Gerrard, Defoe and Rooney somehow were denied by some superb goalkeeping in a moment of agony as first the Tottenham hitman saw a shot parried before Gerrard's sidefoot was palmed away.
England took a single goal advantage into the interval and were 45 minutes away from the second round.
Straight from the restart Defoe almost grabbed a second. Handanovic failed to prevent a corner and when Rooney took it quickly Slovenia were in trouble. Handanovic somehow got back in time to punch the ball clear, Barry headed the ball back into the mix and Defoe hooked the ball wide of the post.
John Terry met another superb Gareth Barry corner at the back post only for Handanovic to deny England again. Moments later Wayne Rooney was denied by an incredible save and saw his shot cannon back off the post.
Lampard lifted the ball through a Slovenian defence rushing out to play offside. Rooney beat the trap, but not Handanovic who got fingertips to the ball to keep Slovenia somehow within reach.
John Terry made two courageous blocks to deny an unlikely Slovenian equaliser, throwing his body in front of two goalbound efforts to keep England in front.
With three minutes added time it was a tense finish for England but they were able to run down the clock as Milner and Joe Cole held onto the ball by the Slovenian right-hand corner flag.
The relief was visible when the final whistle sounded and the England players made a point of coming together in the middle of the pitch for a group huddle, a show of solidarity after several days of speculation about disruption within the camp.
Even the knowledge that they were pipped to top spot in Group C by USA could not dampen England spirits, and the Three Lions can now look forward to a Round of 16 clash with the winners of Group D on Sunday.