England avoided an embarrassing early exit from the World Cup with a well deserved 1-0 victory over Slovenia.
The Three Lions produced a performance the nation had been crying out for after two miserable performances, showing skill and spirit to see off the Slovenians.
Jermain Defoe’s first-half strike ultimately proved enough to book England's place in the last 16, but they could have won by a much more comprehensive scoreline.
Under-fire coach Fabio Capello handed starting places to Defoe and James Milner, dropping Emile Heskey and Aaron Lennon. And there was also a place for Matthew Upson who replaced suspended Jamie Carragher.
Both John Terry and Glen Johnson were unpunished for early mistakes at the back, and Valter Birsa then shot straight at David James.
But England were soon in their stride and a glorious cross-field ball sent Wayne Rooney on his way down the right, and the Manchester United striker curled in a dangerous cross that was nodded behind just as Steven Gerrard looked poised to get a header in.
Frank Lampard’s 30-yard free-kick swerved late but did not trouble Samir Handanovic, and Rooney had a shot blocked after Upson ran at the Slovenian defence.
Terry glanced a header wide from the resulting corner and then found himself needed at the other end, getting in a smart block to deny Zlatan Ljubijankic.
But England finally got a deserved opener on 23 minutes, Milner sending in a delightful cross from the right-hand side for Defoe to smartly volley home.
Handanovic spilled another fine Milner cross and Lampard blazed over, and the Serbian goalkeeper produced a fine double save moments later to prevent England doubling their advantage before the break.
Defoe forced a decent save from Handanovic, and the ball fell to Rooney who squared for Gerrard, but the Liverpool man’s placed effort into the bottom corner was kept out by the Slovenian.
England were almost gifted a second minutes after the restart, two sliced clearances gifting the Three Lions a corner. Rooney took it quickly and the ball was punched out by Handanovic only for Gareth Barry to nod back in for a wide open Defoe, but the Tottenham striker flicked his shot the wrong side of the post.
Slovenia were hanging on, and Defoe was denied a ‘goal’ by an offside flag following fine play from Lampard and Rooney.
Handanovic clawed away Terry’s header as a second England goal looked inevitable, and it should have come on the hour mark – but Rooney’s miserable run of form continued.
The Manchester United man, who going into the game had scored just once in his last nine international outings, was played through on goal but he scuffed his shot against the upright.
Slovenia lifted themselves after that and only some spirited defending prevented them from levelling up the game with 20 minutes left in the game.
Another poor pass from Barry gifted Slovenia possession but Terry and Johnson came to his rescue with two stunning blocks before Zlatko Dedic fired the third chance wide.
Joe Cole fired wide on the break and Slovenia had one more chance in added time, but Upson made sure Dedic would not get a shot in on goal.
And the Slovenians were then left heartbroken as Landon Donovan struck in time added on to hand the United States a 1-0 win over Algeria that snatched them a place in the knockout stage.
England: James, Johnson, Upson, Terry, Cole, Milner, Lampard, Barry, Gerrard, Defoe (Heskey 86), Rooney (J Cole 72).
Goal: Defoe 23
Slovenia: Handanovic S, Brecko, Suler, Cesar, Koren, Ljubijankic (Dedic 62), Birsa, Novakovic, Jokic, Kirm (Matavz 79), Radosavljevic.
Bookings: Johnson (England), Birsa, Jokic, Dedic (Slovenia)