JOHANNESBURG - England scraped through to the World Cup second round with more relief than glory with a 1-0 win over Slovenia after a performance that showed signs of quality and poise faded to a familiar panicky struggle.
There were times in Wednesday's game when England, so pedestrian in attack and wasteful with possession in their two Group C draws against the United States and Algeria, looked comfortable on the ball and confident in themselves.
With James Milner a quality addition to the midfield, they seemed determined to keep the ball on the ground, feed their wide players with sharp, accurate passes and not give possession away.
If that sounds a little basic for a side considered among the favourites heading to South Africa, it looked a huge step forward on a poor pitch at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
A team pilloried at home and whose former captain John Terry had to be slapped down by coach Fabio Capello for comments in the media reminded everyone they could still produce the sort of authoritative form that took them through qualifying with ease.
With darting forward Jermain Defoe preferred to either of their big target men, England looked dangerous from the start and Defoe it was who gave them the lead midway through the first half, nipping in front of his marker to convert a Milner cross.
There should have been more goals, too, especially when an unmarked Wayne Rooney hit the post from a dream position.
The English media must have been preparing glowing reviews at half time but further goals would not come and Rooney, still short of his best form, was substituted for Joe Cole with 18 minutes to go.
With Slovenia, the tournament's smallest nation, needing only a draw to put their opponents out, it was perhaps inevitable that England tightened up as the clock ticked down.
Their commitment never failed them but stray passes gave Slovenia too many chances to counter-attack and they almost succumbed after an astonishing triple let-off when first Terry, then Glen Johnson and finally a misplaced shot saved them.
England, who qualify as runners-up behind the United States, will take heart from the first-half display but Capello, who was screaming at the edge of his technical area at the end of the game, will be worried about the lack of goals.
England have managed just two and it is becoming clear that unless Rooney rediscovers his touch they will not have the quality to counter the slicker, quicker and altogether more joyful football of the South Americans if they progress.