Was that the best that England have to offer? Probably not, but it was better than the last two group stage matches in a myriad of categories. Possession, defense, passing and a more cohesive attack were all sharper from England as they continue to build on their World Cup form that, let’s face it, could only get better considering their first two matches.
Although I believe wholeheartedly England fans have yet to see the best from the three lions, England’s win on Wednesday v Slovenia was a big step forward in regaining the form and confidence that England displayed during a dominant European qualification run.
Finally England have moved on from the deer in headlights state they so commonly showed during their first two group stage matches v the US and Algeria. Finally England looked as if they could play a little football and finally England attacked as a unit using multiple avenues to create solid chances in front of the opposition’s goal.
Fabio Capello made the changes, three in total, that saw England break through their goal scoring drought by electing to drop Emile Heskey for the pacy, goal scoring forward Jermaine Defoe. Capello chose Matthew Upson to partner John Terry and awarded James Milner another shot in midfield. All three players performed well making Capello look the brilliant tactician.
Defoe’s link up with midfielder James Milner proved effective enough to create an England goal and give Slovenia defenders problems all day. Milner has surely played his way into Capello’s plans for England’s last 16 match come Sunday regardless of who they face.
One thing I noticed about Milner was his patience when looking to run at defenders and cross the ball. Time after time, Milner showed his poise and elected to take a few touches on the ball in hopes he could get his defender off balance. Instead of running full speed and getting his cross all wrong, Milner’s touch and poise proved effective in providing decent service to England’s forwards and attacking midfielders – his 22nd minute cross into the box found Defoe and set up the only goal of the match.
England’s midfielders were better without being brilliant. Although they didn’t pass and move as quickly as I would have liked, they weren’t as wasteful in possession as they were in previous outings and their poise and smart play allowed England as a unit to dominate possession and control the flow of play through midfield by spreading the ball wide to England’s flanks.
England used width to their advantage all afternoon provided by their two attacking full backs Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. If the full backs succeeded in placing not a pass or foot wrong all day, so too did the central pairing of Terry and Upson complete the full 90 relatively unscathed. England’s defenders were immense as they slid and lunged at Slovenia’s best attempts to trouble the solid David James in goal.
England still aren’t at their best but are now winning matches and have progressed through to the next round. If they can continue to build upon this form for Sunday, they’ll have a decent shot at getting past the group D winner, regardless of who they face. Also good news for England is Wayne Rooney’s slow but sure return to form. Still not at his Manchester United best, but the striker is showing strong signs that he’s approaching the play we all know he’s capable of.
England fans will consider it a victory that Rooney and co will still be around come the weekend in hopes the three lions can continue to build on this win and pray the worst of England is now behind them, left but an anxious memory in the group stage soon to be forgotten.