Africa, Sport

England outclass Slovenia, book place in next round

England outclass Slovenia, book place in next round

What magic can 90 minutes do for a team under pressure? A lot, it turns out, as England proved against Slovenia on Wednesday in Port Elizabeth. They ran onto the pitch at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium as the team of the damned - they left it a team of heroes. It ended England 1, Slovenia 0.

Truth be told, even after a couple of minutes into the game, there was no doubt which team were superior: England were poised to win it from the get-go and the final skinny result was not a real picture of what happened on the field.

England fully dominated this Group C game and it was difficult to connect them with the bunch of miserable sods that drew against Algeria on Friday. The gist of the change was in Defoe and Milner replacing Heskey and Lennon. Defoe and Milner repeatedly harassed the Slovenian defence that somehow never managed to understand how to stop Milner’s pinpoint crosses and never managed to find where exactly Defoe was hiding in their penalty box.

England’s stars will feel they have finally removed the self-imposed shackles of the first two games and could now perhaps start playing the game they really can play: stringing together a line of tight passes on the flanks and then producing searching crosses into the box with Lampard and Gerrard waiting for any rebounds to be buried into the net.

On the sad side, Slovenia left the field thinking they had qualified, despite the loss, only to learn that the US had won their match in the last minute. It must have been very, very hard on them. Unlike many other teams, they played to the best of their limited abilities throughout their three World Cup games and today’s loss has certainly broken their hearts.

But, that’s soccer and that’s why we love it so much.

Here are this reporter’s notes:

Team lineups

Slovenia: Samir Handanovic, Miso Brecko, Marko Suler, Boštjan Cesar, Bojan Jokic, Valter Birsa, Robert Koren, Aleksander Radosavljevic, Andraz Kirm Zlatan Ljubijankic, Milivoje Novakovic

England: David James, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Ashley Cole, James Milner, Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe

Men of the match

James Milner and Jermain Defoe

Before the match:

Credibility of the English game hangs in balance today. Their team were rocked by the infighting since their impotent draw against Nigeria. In centre of it was, of course, former captain John Terry, who publicly attacked his manager, only to reverse his accusations later.

Sadly, England manager, Fabio Capello did not make a risky, but right choice to exclude superstar Frank Lampard from his team today. Although a brilliant player, Lampard more or less duplicates Steven Gerrard’s role and the two of them have not managed to function in sync. Capello did include Upson, Milner and Defoe in the starting line-up today, brave choices themselves. Lennon, Heskey and Carragher are on the bench today.

Slovenia’s team of Slovenians, Bosnians, Serbs and Croats paint the completely opposite picture. Their four points see them in an unexpected lead and they need only a point from today’s match to advance to the next round. Reportedly, atmosphere in the dressing room was great and the squad can’t wait for the game to start.

Slovenians play in white shorts today. England in the bright red.

First half

  • 4th minute: Both teams start in a determined fashion. It looks if, for obvious reasons, England will attack and Slovenia will try their trademark counter-attacks that almost sank the US.
  • 6th minute: First shot of goal by Slovenian, but  straight into James who deals with it easily.
  • 10th minute: Slovenia’s free-kick is not particularly good, but England inexplicably have problems with directing the ball away from their penalty box.
  • 12th minute: The rhythm slows down a bit. A pattern is starting to emerge now, with England trying to attack (not very well) and Slovenia waiting for counter-attacks.
  • 14th minute: Free-kick for England: Lampard’s very good shot is routinely saved by Handanovic.
  • 15th minute: Rooney’s probing pass only slightly too long for Lampard. Promising for England.

Gerrard is passing very well today. There is a good sense of urgency in England’s game today.

  • 18th minute: Rooney’s shot deflected into corner, which causes a bit of a chaos in Slovenian defence and sees the ball hurriedly pushed into the corner.

England are besieging the opponents. Slovenian players are still waiting.

  • 19th minute: Johnson’s shot flies straight into Handanovic.
  • 20th minute: Ljubijancic on the counter-attack is stopped by Terry. Resulting corner sees good shot by Cesar, well-saved by James.

Game is speeding up a now.

  • 23rd minute: England lead! Milner’s brilliant cross landed on Defoe’s right foot and Handanovic didn’t stand a chance. We have a contest now!
  • 26th minute: Another Milner cross, this time scooped from the feet of galloping Defoe, while Lampard misses the rebound.
  • 30th minute: Handanovic saves brilliantly twice, first from Defoe and then from Gerrard. England’s team finally look good and dangerous.
  • 31st minute: Slovenia’s attempt on counter-attack fizzles out.
  • 34th minute: Free kick for Slovenia barely reaches English penalty box. Slovenians are rather pathetic today.
  • 36th minute: Another dangerous cross from Milner is chested into the corner. Milner has brought great sense of purpose to England’s right flank.
  • 40th minute: First yellow card of the match goes to Jokic. He’ll miss the next game, should Slovenia qualify.
  • 42nd minute: Birsa’s free kick flicks dangerously, but James is up to the task.

First half ends

Second half

  • 46th minute: Uncharacteristic chaos in Slovenian defence lands England a quick corner then a great opportunity for Defoe, who misses empty goal. Comical from both sides.
  • 48th minute: Johnson gets a yellow card for simulation. A terribly unfair decision by referee Stark.
  • 49th minute: Rooney and Defoe combine to score a goal that is quickly disallowed for offside.

James brings a great sense of safety to English defence. The whole team function the way they were expected to do all along.

  • 52nd minute: Slovenian free-kick surely handled by James, no fuss, no drama.
  • 55th minute: Another free-kick for Slovenia, with a carbon-copy of James’s reaction.
  • 57th  minute: Milner is brilliant today.
  • 57th minute: Corner for England sees Terry’s brilliant shot to the closer post saved by Handanovic.
  • 58th minute: Rooney hits the post, after finding himself alone in front of Handanovic. England’s goal is in the air.
  • 59th minute: Rooney’s long-range shot is well saved by Handanovic.
  • 65th minute: Birsa’s shot is more of a pass to David James.
  • 68th minute: Triple chance for Slovenia twice blocked and then the whole goal missed by Dedic, who replaced Ljubijankic.

Photo: Slovenia’s Zlatko Dedic (L) takes a shot as England’s John Terry (C) dives in front of the ball next to team mate Glen Johnson during the 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match in Port Elizabeth June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Darren Staples

  • 70th minute: Birsa insults James by attempting a direct shot from the 40m free-kick.
  • 72nd minute: English fans’ favourite Joe Cole is replacing … Wayne Rooney! That’s a brave, but great move by Capello. Rooney is completely off form of late.

England are desperately seeking the assurance of the second goal. One goal from Slovenia, fluke or not, would see them crash out of the tournament. Their fans are louder than vuvuzelas.

The game is completely sanitised and impactless for 10 minutes. Are both teams tired? Strangely, Joe Cole’s introduction did not change England’s rhythm much.

  • 86th minute: Slovenians shoot wildly over James’s goal.
  • 87th minute: Joe Cole’s first attempt at goal flies swiftly, but harmlessly past Handanovic.
  • 89th minute: Slovenian free-kick. Birsa’s cross is dealt with by England’s defence in a pinball manner. Brownian motion also comes to mind.
  • 90th minute: Upson’s brave slide steals the ball away from the speeding Dedic. It would have been a great chance for Slovenia.
  • 92nd minute: England are engaging in delaying tactics to waste as much time as they can.

England have qualified.

By Branko Brkic

Photo: England’s Jermain Defoe celebrates his goal during the 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match against Slovenia in Port Elizabeth June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria


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