ENGLAND won a game they had to win, fair play to them for that. But, contrary to what their many cheerleaders maintain, they could have done so much more, and will need to in order to survive past even this weekend.
• England coach Fabio Capello
Not that they had to much more yesterday in the end, although a few more goals would have helped Fabio Capello's side top the group. But never mind the fact that England have scored just two goals in three games, judging by some of the commentary and analysis yesterday they are now back on course for the final on 11 July.
No-one can deny their supporters, and even professional reporters, some glee at the first obstacle having been hurdled, but the extreme reactions of the latter group is one reason why progress at major tournaments is such a struggle for England. They are awful or they are brilliant. They are over-burdened with baggage whatever occurs.
Buoyed by a scrappy 1-0 over Slovenia, the flags are now flying again. In the aftermath of Algeria, however, the only thing many had wanted to see in the air was the plane bringing the embarrassing bunch of charlatans back home to England, out of harm's way.
Yesterday, according to those such as Mark Lawrenson who operate in a land where there are no grey areas, England were "very, very, very good". Gabby Logan spoke breathlessly of a "fantastic performance" and asked Capello how far he thinks England can now go. It was as if Algeria had not happened. It was as if England had not been out-played for much of the opening game by the United States. It was as if these professionals, paid to lend some sort of a critical eye to the match taking place in front of them, had already forgotten what had just occurred out on the rutted pitch at Port Elizabeth, as England excelled at little more than last-ditch defending. Slovenia are not a great side by any means, but they deserve to be at the World Cup – and they gave England a game yesterday.
England won, yes. But they only just defeated a side who, over an hour or so earlier, had been compared by BBC commentator Guy Mowbray, Lawrenson's equally appalling side-kick, to a team from the English third division. We will give Mowbray some credit and assume he meant a League One side, but the disrespect was still enough to stop anyone watching in their tracks. Even English viewers must have wanted to put their head in their hands, and scream: when will we ever learn?
England, of course, were the Premiership side in this imaginary FA Cup clash, though later Mowbray promoted them to "superstars", presumably on account of their world-class ability to huddle around a corner flag with the ball in a desperate attempt to wind down the minutes and defend a narrow, 1-0 lead. Mowbray himself later exposed the lie at the heart of his "third division" comment. He reminded viewers that Samir Handanovic, yesterday's man of the match, plays in the Serie A for Udinese, while Valter Birsa is at Auxerre. Not that Lawrenson was expected to know this. He didn't even have a watch on. "How long to go until half-time?" he asked Mowbray, unbelievably, at one point. But these are trifling concerns when placed next to the inability of those such as Lawrenson to apply reasoned, well-measured analysis. A single goal for Slovenia would have put England out, and understandably it got tense out on the field towards the end. The English players can be forgiven for lacking perspective, since it is often hard to review a match in which one has taken part just minutes after the game. It's why Steven Gerrard can be excused the more hysterical moments of his interview at the end with Logan. The main emotion which spilled from him was relief, however. He knew just how near England had been to being treated to the opposite side of the coin. He knew what would have awaited had one of those three chances in succession which fell to Slovenia in a frantic few moments late on been converted. The performance would have been labelled shameful. Had Jermain Defoe not scored, and it remained 0-0, then England would have been derided, never mind that those such as Mathew Upson and John Terry had decent games.
It suits the needs of many professional analysers to ramp-up a performance or else condemn it to the pits. It simply doesn't do to be moderate. Just a few days on from the stories about a broken, divided England, now, according to Mowbray, "team England is together – and marching on".
Scotland can be just as hysterical about football, of course. But perhaps Scottish supporters have a more acute sense of their station. Many English fans seem as fatalistic after so many years of hurt, and one can imagine them writhing in agony yesterday. Not just because of the agonising nature of a game which remained very much in the balance until the final whistle, but also due to the excruciating contributions from those who should know better. England could well build from this and go far in the tournament. But they will have to improve much further still.