LONDON - England supporters breathed a sigh of relief after the country's stuttering team clawed their way into the World Cup second round on Wednesday.
An improved performance in a 1-0 win over Slovenia helped fans forget a poor group stage campaign that left England needing a win to make sure they avoided going home early.
Millions of anxious supporters broke off from work to watch the afternoon game on television in pubs or on big screens and schoolchildren were allowed to finish classes early.
"The World Cup starts now," said Stuart Barnett, 32, a broker watching the Group C game at the Hoop and Grapes, a packed pub in central London.
Instead of the boos that greeted stilted draws against the U.S. and Algeria, renditions of the national anthem rang out in the Port Elizabeth stadium and cheers went up across London.
"It's their first decent performance," Scott Parrish, 21, another broker said after England, among the pre-tournament favourites, came second in the group behind the United States.
Tens of thousands watched the game on big screens at the Glastonbury music festival in south-west England and cheers erupted on Centre Court during the Wimbledon tennis tournament when news of the score filtered through.
The court was almost three-quarters empty when five-times champion Venus Williams came on to play.
But about 300 homes in Manchester, northern England, were without electricity during the match, the BBC reported. Parts of south-west London also suffered power cuts.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was pictured catching a glimpse of the game during his busy schedule.
Fans at the Hoop and Grapes got behind England, ranked eighth in the world, ignoring rumblings of dressing room divisions and criticism of manager Fabio Capello.
"I thought they played very well today. A bit more team spirit, they pulled together," said Emma Voss, 29, an IT worker.
"They play better when they have everything to lose."
But nails were bitten until the final whistle, with England failing to finish off a team ranked 25th in the world, and with a population of two million - the smallest at the tournament.
"We'll still struggle against the top teams," said Jake Nutley, 20, a sprinkler fitter.
Despite England's claim to be the birthplace of the game, they have only won the trophy once, on home soil in 1966.
The last time England failed to get past the first round was in 1958, although they did not qualify for the World Cup finals in 1974, 1978 and 1994.comments