PORT ELIZABETH - England burst into life at last and battled into the second round of the World Cup on Wednesday with a 1-0 Group C win over Slovenia that condemned their devastated opponents to an early exit.
Jermain Defoe's recall to the starting lineup paid off when the diminutive striker fired England ahead in the 23rd minute of a match his rejuvenated team dominated in an more entertaining reversal of their stuttering World Cup form.
The win gave England the second qualifying berth, with the United States' last-gasp 1-0 victory over Algeria earning them top spot and condemning Slovenia, who had led the group, to an early exit along with the Algerians.
England coach Fabio Capello hailed his players for rediscovering the spirit with which they breezed through the qualifiers with nine wins from 10 matches.
"We play together, we fight together. I'm really, really happy," he said. "I've again found the team I know. We can go forward against all the teams because the players' minds now are free, without fear, without doubt."
England needed to win the match to make sure they advanced after two drab draws in their opening matches left their campaign hanging in the balance, angering fans and sparking fervent speculation about discontent and mutiny in the camp.
Capello's decision to start Defoe and Milner paid off immediately as the pair linked up with Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney to put England in the driving seat.
Rooney, who Capello later said was struggling with an ankle problem, was back in battling mood and the pacy Defoe proved a menace for the Slovenia defence, chasing every ball and forcing several saves from goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Rooney, Lampard and John Terry all came close in a frenetic opening half hour and England's pressure finally paid off when Milner broke free on the right and superbly picked out Defoe.
The striker was quick off the mark to get ahead of the defence and put away an inviting cross with a clinical finish.
"It's important to keep the spirit, which we have done, and it showed tonight," said man of the match Defoe.
England could have doubled their lead on the half-hour when Handanovic pulled off a superb double save from Defoe and then Gerrard before leaping on the loose ball as it spun precariously towards the goal line behind him.
They kept up the pressure after the break, with Defoe having an effort disallowed for offside, Rooney hitting the post and Terry seeing his close range header saved.
"There was real determination from the group and you could see that from the way we played," Lampard said. "We could have scored a few more goals. Everyone was terrific."
Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek was stunned by his side's elimination after the late goal in the other group match.
"This is indescribable but it's sport. This will be a positive experience and we'll benefit from it," he said.
"I'm proud of the Slovenian team, we've come so far. I hope England win the World Cup, I think they're the best. This was a hugely difficult match."comments