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England qualify as runners up following defeat of Slovenia

England 1-0 Slovenia

England qualified for the Round of 16 with a 1-0 victory over Slovenia. However, the United States’ late goal against Algeria means that England finish as runners up and potentially face a difficult Second Round game against Germany in Bloemfontein.

England came into today’s game knowing that they needed to win to secure passage from a group which had been taken too lightly by England.

Both sides started edgily. There were some poor defensive clearances from Glen Johnson, Matthew Upson for England and Cesar for Slovenia.

England were looking very nervous in the opening minutes. John Terry’s backpass giving Matthew Upson a moment of distress.

Slovenia, despite the unprecedentedly high stakes, were the brighter side in the opening ten minutes. Valter Birsa, Slovenia’s standout performer in the tournament, embarked on a series of mazy runs into the England half while his teammates Jovanovic and Kirm were stringing passes together and causing problems for England’s fullbacks.

England eventually settled. Frank Lampard attempted a free-kick from all of 35 yards. The infamous Jabulani changed direction twice before being secured by Samir Handanovic.

Ljubijankic, of KAA Gent, had a great chance to heap further pressure on Fabio Capello’s unimpressive side but was denied by a terrific saving block by John Terry.

James Milner and Jermain Defoe had been brought into the starting line up by Fabio Capello in place of Aaron Lennon and Emile Heskey. The pair justified their selection by combining to give England the lead. Milner, who had been dropped by Fabio Capello for the 0-0 draw with Algeria, supplying the cross for Jermain Defoe who shinned the ball towards goal. Samir Handanovic had been performing superbly for Slovenia but was unable to keep Defoe’s volley out.

The goal seemed to settle England appeared to settle England’s fragile nerves. As it stood England would progress at the head of the Group C table with the Slovenians scraping through as runners up ahead of the United States who were being held 0-0 by Algeria.

Another cross nearly brought England’s second. Handanovic came a long way to palm the swinging pass away but his parry fell only as far as Frank Lampard. The Chelsea midfielder, who had failed to reproduce his club form for his national side, failed to hit the target.

England were keen to press their advantage. Jermain Defoe’s low shot from just outside the penalty area was blocked by Handanovic. Wayne Rooney collected the loose ball and sent a delicate pass across the penalty area for Steven Gerrard. The England captain was unable to convert, as the Udinese goalkeeper managed to keep the ball from crossing the line.

It appeared that Slovenia were finally succumbing to the pressure of the occassion. The quick passing and movement from their earlier games against Algeria and the United States had deserted them as they struggled to control possession. England continued to threaten towards the end of the half but were unable to add to their tally.

Jermain Defoe had a glorious opportunity to score his second goal within forty seconds of the start of the second half. A quickly taken corner fell to the Tottenham Hotspur striker, but Defoe was only able to flick the ball wide with the outside of his boot.

Despite a dramatic deterioration in their form, Slovenia were still posing a threat to England. A terrific inswinging free-kick from Birsa was fisted away by David James. The slightest touch from the flailing right foot of Jovanovic would surely have leveled the game.

Another good delivery from Birsa was caught by David James as Slovenia began to edge back into the match.

John Terry, whose feeble attempt at instigating a squad revolt against Fabio Capello was rebuked by the former Real Madrid manager, came close from a corner. The Chelsea captain thumped a challenging header at Samir Handanovic from Steven Gerrard’s corner.

Wayne Rooney had yet to impress at the World Cup and was discouragingly out of form again this afternoon. The Manchester United striker, with ample time and space, was one-on-one with Handanovic but his poor control and scuffed shot allowed the goalkeeper to glance his shot onto the post. Rooney was later replaced by fan favourite Joe Cole. England’s talisman trudged off the field looking very much like a player short of confidence and the requisite match fitness to excel at a World Cup.

After Rooney’s dismal failure in front of goal England reverted to the same poor football that had shrouded their displays against the United States and Algeria. Long punts up the field from David James were England’s predominant attacking threat from the sixtieth minute onwards.

Slovenia themselves were relatively unthreatening, each foray into England territory was halted by a wayward pass or a poor control. As the scoreboard in Port Elizabeth ticked towards the ninetieth minute, England seemed desperate to cling on to their lead. Emile Heskey was introduced with the sole purpose of reproducing his lumbering attack-quashing form in the defensive third.

Slovenia sent more crosses into the England penalty area but were denied by Matthew Upson and David James, England hung on to secure safe passage to the last sixteen. The players and coaching staff stormed the pitch where excited celebrations followed a n unimpressive victory over a mediocre opponent.

If England are to reach the final, as their optimistic manager predicts, they will need drastic improvement in terms of ball retention and passing speed. As England’s players huddled on the pitch, news filtered through from Pretoria that Landon Donovan had rescued the United States with a stoppage time winner. The goal has severe implications for England’s ambitions. The United States now progress as group winners with the Three Lions facing a monumental task in the Second Round, should Germany beat Ghana tonight.

Fabio Capello expressed his pride in his players’ performances after the final whistle and  about how his side played with ‘freedom’. The gushing of a certain gushing member of the British media referred to the win as being ‘more like the England we know.’ If this is the England we can expect in the knockout stages then the quest to end the forty-four year wait for World Cup glory will soon become forty-eight.


United States recover to rescue a point

The United States recovered from a 2-0 deficit at half-time to draw 2-2 with group leaders Slovenia. Despite a result which potentially salvages their hopes of reaching the Round of 16 the United States will have every reason to bemoan the result as they were incorrectly denied a late winner by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly.

The 22nd match of this summer’s World Cup got off to a heated start. Clint Dempsey and Ljubjankic challenged for a header in the centre of the pitch just seconds after the referee’s whistle. Fulham’s Dempsey caught the Slovenian striker with his elbow and provoked an furious reaction Slovenia’s players.

The United States failed to mount a sustained attacking threat against England but a terrific pass from Michael Bradley showed a new ambition from the United States. Bradley found Robbie Findley in space on the left, who looked up in search of a target for his cross. Jozy Altidore was unmarked in the middle but Findley’s cross was blocked by the Slovenian right-back.

Auxerre’s Valter Birsa launched a brilliant cross towards Milivoje Novakovic who   moved in front of defender Jay DeMerit. Novakovic could not make the crucial touch as the game began to open up.

Birsa had impressed in the World Cup thus far and opened the scoring with a terrific goal from outside the area. His left footed, curling effort beat Tim Howard, who appeared to be unsighted by his defenders. It was a breathtaking goal and Slovenia appeared to be good value for their early advantage.

Landon Donovan threatened to bring the United States back into this game. His quick feet were causing the Slovenian central defence problems but he was unable to find a teammate when he needed to.

Donovan was involved against just minutes later as he sent a lofted cross towards the far post. Dempsey rose to head goalwards but unfortunately for the Fulham midfielder the ball just bounced off the top of his crown.

Jose Francisco Torres, who was brought into the starting line-up in place of the more defensive Ricardo Clark, whipped a fierce free kick in from the right. Handandovic , whose club form had seen him become an object of interest for Bayern München ,   palmed the shot away at full stretch. The resulting corner brought a chance for Jay DeMerit who attacked the ball well but saw his header land wide of the target.

Robbie Findley was constantly finding himself in dangerous positions but had yet to  take advantage of his unrivalled pace. Findley played a terrible pass towards Jozy Altidore around the penalty spot where a chipped pass towards Donovan or Dempsey at the back post would have been the better option. From the corner, the ball struck Robbie Findley in the face and he was wrongly awarded a yellow card. The card ruling him out of the United States’ final group match with Algeria.

The United States nearly had an equaliser in the 39th minute. Clint Dempsey dribbled deep into the Slovenian penalty before rolling a pass across goal. Miso Brecko swiftly cleared the ball off the line as Donovan prepared to apply the easiest of finishes.

Slovenia scored a second goal just moments later against the run of play. USA caught on the break. Zlatan Ljubijankic taking advantage of terrible positioning by Oguchi Onyewu to beat the offside trap and slot the ball under Tim Howard, who had perhaps tried to close down the Gent striker too quickly.

Slovenia were on the threshold of a truly remarkable achievement. They are the fifth-smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup and just forty-five minutes stood between them and a place in the last sixteen.

Bob Bradley wasted no time in changing his side. Benny Feilhaber and Maurice Edu were introduced at half-time in place of Francisco Torres and Robbie Findley respectively.

The United States were boosted immediately almost immediately. Record goalscorer Landon Donovan beat the offside trap and approached the goal from the byline, he thought about laying it off before lashing it high just inside the far post with Samir Handandovic unable to react.

The United States got a free kick minutes later as the vocal US support in Ellis Park sparked to life. Donovan’s delivery was perfect once again. Dempsey missed his header and Oguchi Onyewu, hungry to reprieve himself for his earlier mistake, slid towards the ball but it proved to be just out of his reach.

The match was poised, as the cliché goes, on a knife-edge.

The Americans would need to maintain their intensity if they were to mount a successful comeback. It was surprising to see the USMNT players increasingly look to wards Tim Howard to punt the ball aimlessly down the field as their predominant form of creating chances.

The defensive set-up of Slovenia threatened to confound the United States. They were awarded a free-kick following a handball by substitute Maurice Edu. Birsa, whose delivery had been so effective in the first half, continued to offer challenges for the Tim Howard and the American defence to deal with.

The Americans’ play did not seem urgent enough considering the situation they were in. A rare move of short passing saw Benny Feilhaber in possession just outside the Slovenian penalty area. His weak shot dribbled wide with just 25 minutes to go.

Marko Suler was fortunate not to be on the receiving end of a red card after he grappled Jozy Altidore to the ground as the Hull City striker chased down a Landon Donovan pass just outside the penalty area. Altidore appeared to be through on goal and the ever feisty Donovan was infumed by the decision.

Slovenia had begun to lose their discipline, perhaps burdened by a sense of anxiety as they drew ever nearer to the Round of 16.

The United States’ lack of urgency was proving to be their undoing. They needed to find Dempsey and Donovan to increase the tempo and really threaten Slovenia.

However, the Americans would find an equaliser with just seven minutes remaining of normal time.  Landon Donovan fired a searching long ball towards the penalty area. The imposing frame of Jozy Altidore rose above Brecko to head into the path of Michael Bradley’s late run into the box. The Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder slid  forward and poked the ball into the goal with Handandovic in no position to save it. Bradley’s goal sparked joyous scenes from the thousands of American fans in attendance at Ellis Park and an even more ecstatic celebration from his father, the coach, Bob Bradley.

The goal gave rise to an interesting dynamic. Would the United States continue to search for an unlikely winning goal, would Slovenia collapse under the pressure?

Perhaps the most contentious refereeing decision yet seen at this World Cup arrived in the 88th minute. Altidore was awarded a free kick after being held back by Jokic.. Donovan stepped forward purposefully to take. The MLS star delivered another excellent free-kick across the six-yard box. Maurice Edu was the first to react and prodded into the unguarded left of the net. Referee Koman Coulibaly, who was erratic throughout, disallowed the goal and awarded a free kick to a grateful Slovenia. Replays failed to show any wrongdoing on the part of the United States’ players and perhaps even suggested that a penalty should have been awarded as Brecko and Jovic wrestled Altidore and Bradley.

Nevertheless, the United States’ recovery gives them 2 points and presents them with a terrific chance to qualify for the next round against Algeria. Slovenia will rue allowing the United States to come back but will also be thankful that Malian referee wrongly disallowed Edu’s goal. Matjaz Kek’s side still sit atop Group C at least until England play the Algerians in Cape Town this evening.

Guest Blog: The Lowdown on Slovenia

In his latest squad profile veteran blogger and journalist with DCU’s College View, Niall Farrell details a talented and ambitious Slovenian squad,  a team making their second finals appearance in three attempts.


“Relative unknowns” is the term normally used to refer to the Slovenian national team. In a team which relies on mostly players from the lesser lights in the English, German and Italian leagues, household names are few and far between.

Underneath this relative anonymity lies a team with a strong spine. Quality, diligence and perseverance are the attributes which define this Slovenian team.

With a population of just under two million, Slovenia are one of the smaller nations to have qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

Slovenia were the sole unseeded team to emerge from the UEFA playoff system, defeating a strong Russian team after beating the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland to second spot (behind Slovakia in first).

Off-the-pitch problems have dogged Slovenia’s preparation, as a row over tournament bonuses threatens to escalate.

Organisation is key in the Slovenian camp, with coach Matjas Kek prizing a strong work ethic in his team. Normally Slovenia play with a flat 4-4-2 formation, with strikers Dedic and Novakovic forming an effective partnership up front. Dedic will commonly drift off to just behind Novakovic, creating space for his strike partner.

The aforementioned Dedic and Novakovic, of Bochum and Koln respectively, form the fulcrum of the Slovenian threat.

West Brom’s Robert Koren is used as an attacking central midfielder, with holding midfielder Aleksandr Radosavljevic often deployed alongside Koren.

Winger Valter Birsa is highly rated in Ligue 1 with Auxerre and poses a real threat down the left flank.

The other flank is usually occupied by Wisla Krakow’s Andraz Kirm, although the right side of midfield will be contested by both Mirnes Sisic of Larissa and Dalibor Stefanovic of Vitess Arnhem.

The defensive effort is coordinated by the excellent Samir Handanovic in goal. Handanovic has cemented his place as No.1 at Udinese in recent years and marshals his defence with authority.

Handanovic’s deputy will be his cousin Jasmin, who also plays in Italy with Mantova.

Bostjan Cesar of Grenoble is the leading centre-back in the Slovene back four and is partnered by either Matej Mavric of Koblenz or Marko Suler of Gent.

Miso Brecko is regarded as one of the most underrated full backs in the Bundesliga and will start at left back. Bojan Jokic has impressed while on loan at Chievo this season and should start on the other flank.

With a solid spine and capable backup in reserve, Slovenia are confident going into a difficult group.

England are favourites to top Group C, but the feeling in Slovenia is that they could challenge the USA and Algeria for the runner-up spot.

World Cup History

Slovenia have qualified for a World Cup just once since independence, in 2002. Their trip to Japan and Korea was characterised by dissent, as star player Zlatko Zahovic famously rowed with coach Srecko Katanec.

Zahovic was sent home by Katanec after Slovenia were defeated by Spain in their fist match.

Slovenia lost narrowly to South Africa and then to Paraguay  before returning home.

Slovenia failed to qualify in 2006, but the qualification for the 2010 tournament is being heralded by some as a swansong for the Slovenian “Golden Age’ of football.

The Coach

Matjas Kek had a distiguished playing career, both domestically with Maribor and in Austria with GAK Linz and Spittal/Drau.

Kek began his managerial career in 2000 with Maribor. In his time with The Violets, Kek won three Slovenian league titles and one Slovenian Cup before departing in 2006.

Before taking charge of the Slovenian national team in 2007, Kek managed the national under-15 and under-16 sides.

Star Player

Milivoje Novakovic

Novakovic is the third-highest international goalscorer in Slovenian history, with fourteen goals in thirty-seven appearances.

Currently with Koln in Germany, Novakovic earned his reputation as a ruthless goalscorer in Die Geißböcke’s promotion-winning season in 2008 when he netted twenty goals.

Previously to 2008, Novakovic was with Bulgaria’s Litex Lovech and several Austrian sides.

Novakovic was captain of Koln in 2008/2009 and scored another sixteen goals in their first season back in the Budesliga.

This season, Novakovic was involved in a dispute with Koln coach Zvonimir Soldo, but still starred as they finished thirteenth in the league.

One To Watch

Rene Krhin

Regarded as the ‘next big thing’ in Slovenian football, Krhin has broke into the Inter Milan first-team this season.

Krhin is a holding midfielder whose distribution and effective use of possession has been singled out for praise by Jose Mourinho.

Krhin may not play every match for Slovenia, but his inclusion in the Slovenian squad is a signal of things to come from this young midfielder.

Preliminary Squad:

Goalkeepers: Samir Handanovic (Udinese), Jasmin Handanovic (Mantova), Aleksander Seliga (Sparta Rotterdam), Jan Koprivec (Maribor).

Defenders: Bojan Jokic (Chievo), Marko Suler (Ghent), Bostjan Cesar (Grenoble), Branko Ilic (Lokomotiv Moscow), Matej Mavric (Koblenz), Dejan Kelhar (Cercle Brugge), Elvedin Dzinic (Maribor), Miso Brecko (Cologne), Aleksandar Rajcevic (Koper), Suad Filekovic (Maribor).

Midfielders: Andraz Kirm (Wisla Krakow), Andrej Komac (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Rene Krhin (Internazionale), Mirnes Sisic (Giannina), Darjan Matic (Rapid Bucharest), Dare Vrsic (Koper), Dalibor Stevanovic (Vitesse Arnhem), Robert Koren (West Bromwich Albion), Aleksander Radosavljevic (Larissa), Valter Birsa (Auxerre).

Strikers: Milivoje Novakovic (Cologne), Zlatko Dedic (VfL Bochum), Zlatan Ljubijankic (Ghent), Nejc Pecnik (Nacional), Miran Burgic (AIK), Tim Matavz (Groningen).