Over the moon and into the last 16.
So, we made it. There will be some doom mongers out there who still believe that the performances thus far have been patchy, but does it really matter? When it really needed to be done, it was done, so lets take these lessons learned on board and move on to the last 16.
Whereas Fabio Capello’s men failed to show much in the way of heart and character in those rather limp lifeless displays against the United States and Algeria I think its fair to say that today you could see the desire from every player in all red and had chances been taken and had the Slovenian keeper not had such a great game then the scoreline could have been far more emphatic.
From the outset you could sense the belief and unlike the previous 180 minutes of World Cup action the England players were stringing three and four passes together, there was movement and there were opportunities. On more than one occasion Udinese goalie Samir Handanovic kept the Slovenians in the game but he was powerless to stop James Milner combining with Jermain Defoe for a terrific goal. The movement and sharpness of the ball from the Aston Villa man was exactly why he was picked to start the match and the manner in which the Tottenham ace put the ball away was evidence of why he too was selected for this crucial match.
Wayne Rooney started brightly but he looked laboured after a while and whilst clearly being the most talented player on show you could see from his mannerisms that something was not quite right and it was a surprise he managed to stay on the field for 70+ minutes. He will return stronger for the knock out stages, simply because without him at his best England will struggle to put away chances.
There was always a chance of a breakaway goal and the amount of times Auxerre midfielder Valter Birsa decided to go it alone and act greedily was criminal and I would imagine of all the players worthy of a berating in the post match dressing room it would be him. Time and again when he had the chance to bring in colleagues he chose to shoot straight at David James, even when required to take set pieces he would fire a shot rather than looking for a cross.
Of course as the game went on England should have killed off any nerves with a second but we all knew they wouldn’t make it that easier on the loyal fans in the stadium and those in bars/pubs/work places and homes across the country were rapidly losing their voices and their finger nails.
On two occasions John Terry and Matthew Upson flung themselves in for brave blocks and on one occasion the Chelsea skipper exemplified what he is all about when he threw himself head long into the path of a Slovenian pile driver, his hands by his sides so as to avoid handball claims he dove dolphin like with no thought for his personal safety. It was the first moment in the entire competition that the super slow-motion replay was both merited and awe inspiring.
Clearly there were a few gripes and England wouldn’t be England without numerous questions and debates to fuel the fire of passion. Gareth Barry was pretty poor and lost the ball far too often. The Manchester City man looked a yard off the pace and had we had any other decent defensive midfield options he would surely not have been on the pitch.
Frank Lampard was lax when he is usually crisp and lethal. Glen Johnson is probably lucky to not have been sent off. However the centre back pairing were on top form. They dealt with the opposition threat when needed and Steven Gerrard was also pretty good whilst on the ball and Ashley Cole was effective when coming forward.
It was by no means a vintage performance but it was a determined, insightful and effective one. We would have all preferred to not have our heads in our hands counting the seconds down until the final whilstle, but then watching England for this long we all knew it would be that way and in many regards we wouldn’t want it any other way.
David James 7 – Safe assured handling
Ashley Cole 7 – Balanced performance without many errors
Matthew Upton 8 – Best performance for his country, exactly when it was needed
John Terry 8 – Committed and determined as ever
Glen Johnson 6.5 – So used to seeing the Liverpool man contribute more
Gareth Barry 6 – Definitely the worst player in England red
Steven Gerrard 7.5 – Beginning to pur after a poor club season
Frank Lampard 6.5 – Decidedly average by his usual very high standards
James Milner 7.5 – Expert cross and consistently dangerous
Jermain Defoe 7 – Had one chance and put it away clinically
Wayne Rooney 7 – Not quite there today but still a threat
Joe Cole 6.5 – Wasn’t on long enough to do much else but keep the ball and run down the clock
Emile Heskey 6 – Probably didn’t touch the ball