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England celebrate escape

Despite placing second behind the US, English fans rejoiced in victory

IN England there are no half measures. A glass is either full or nothing at all. The national team is either inspired or woeful. No shades of grey lingering around the halfway line. After two drab performances, one good game has transformed the national team from catching the first plane back home to inevitable World Cup Winners.

Forget the likes of Argentina, Spain, Brazil and the old enemy Germany that lie in wait, England’s name is written on that cup.

Or at least that’s what it seemed as a nation lept as one in the air to greet the German referee’s final whistle. Recognition that England had achieved the ultimate accolade of coming second in a group containing the might of Algeria, Slovenia and the US.

Forget stereotypical images of stiff upper lips and checking back emotions. From the moment that Jermain Defoe broke the Slovenian net to the final whistle news that Landon Donovan’s late winner for the US had condemned England to a last-16 showdown with Germany, the whole nation rode a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows.

The streets of London were deserted as if the bomb had been dropped. Offices turned off their phones, schools replaced the white board with the TV screen, so that a whole nation could suffer its purgatory united.

At least the Germany game will be on a Sunday afternoon.

So, as the mists of a nation’s hangover disperse, what is the more sober assessment of England’s performance and chances?

Did Acapello learn to sing to a new tune? Certainly by relaxing the pre-match ban on beer, the English coach seems to have relaxed his iron rod, though whether the players chose to take up their last order seems unclear. FIFA has banned all reporting on this issue, fearing an ambush marketing campaign by rival beer companies.

Beer relaxations aside, in sticking to his beloved 4-4-2 with captain Gerrard still waiting in exile on the left and star striker Rooney playing with Defoe upfront, Il Duce showed that he was a man who stood by his own convictions.

Against Slovenia England did their familiar impersonation of Lazarus. Rising from the depths of Algeria, their muscles perhaps relaxed by a FIFA-sanctioned Bud, they played with a pace and abandon that had characterised their qualification campaign. If Wayne Rooney had not fluffed his lines in front of goal, England’s fate would have been sealed long before the final curtain dropped, and England would be facing Ghana not Germany in the next round.

In starting James Milner on the right and Jermain Defoe upfront, Capello proved he knew something about understudies. And Matthew Upson’s last gasp challenge was reminiscent of a former West Ham centre back who once did lift the World Cup for England.

But surely England will need more than promising starlets and last ditch challenges to progress beyond the Germans. A return to form for Rooney might just give the nation something to cheer about when they meet the Old Foe in Bloemfontein Sunday.



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