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England’s great escape

sports Updated: Jun 24, 2010 08:44 IST

England reached the round of 16 at the World Cup on Wednesday, beating Slovenia 1-0 in the team's final Group C match and knocking the Slovenes out of the tournament. Jermain Defoe turned home James Milner's cross from five meters with a right-foot volley in the 23rd minute to give England five points in the group. Slovenia finished with four but failed to advance because the United States beat Algeria 1-0 and won the group.

"The performance of the team was really, really good," England coach Fabio Capello said. "We created a lot of chances to score a second goal, but we didn't score. It is possible to draw or lose the game for nothing in the final minute." Showing much better form after its dismal 0-0 draw with Algeria, when the team was booed off the field, England looked much more like the team that headed into the tournament in South Africa with a chance of winning the title.

"This team, this spirit, played together and tried together," said Capello, who went onto the field after the game and hugged several of his players. "I am really happy because I found the team I know. We now go forward. We can play against all the teams because the mind is now free."

"It's been difficult for the supporters because they weren't happy with the performances," Defoe said. "A lot of the top teams have struggled so it was important to keep the spirit, which we have done."

Slovenia led the Group C standings before kickoff, but was eliminated by a late American goal against Algeria. "This is indescribable, but this is sport," Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek said. "I can only hope our sport will be able to gain from this defeat. Our (players) should be left alone for a while as they are feeling very hard moments."

Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Glen Johnson all had goalbound shots. On the other end, goalkeeper David James had to react sharply to keep out a flick-on from Slovenia defender Bostjan Cesar. England continued to dominate after the goal and Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic had to make two saves within a few seconds of each other to keep out shots from Defoe and Steven Gerrard.

Slovenia almost equalized in the 68th after Barry lost possession and Terry and Johnson blocked goalbound shots from Zlatko Dedic and Milivoje Novakovic.

"I think Slovenia played a good game," Capello said. "But, when you play to draw, you play not how you usually play." Kek was looking to the future. "They are maturing a lot and they will come to a point where they will play their best. We have created huge potential for us.”