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Defoe cameo steals the show

They say when a striker is in form, every little thing seems to work; every hopeful shot hits the net. It seems Jermain Defoe is in that vein of form. For the Tottenham Hotspur striker, revitalized this season under Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, yet again hit the target on Saturday afternoon, heralding a 2-1 victory, universal praise and a call for him to start in England’s qualifying grudge match against Croatia.

Before that game however, England pitted themselves against little known Slovenia, a side who, whilst not revelling in the media spotlight, are quietly making solid progression under manager Matjaz Kek. Kek’s side proved their worth in this friendly and, despite falling 2-1 to their more illustrious opponents, won a number of plaudits. Predictably however, Slovenia didn’t turn up at Wembley with the intention of out-playing England, despite having a few half chances, the underdogs never looked like stealing a win.

A sluggish England didn’t look too bright going forward either in the opening exchanges. Heskey partnered Rooney and the pair struggled to make a real impression, lacking service from an English midfield which will have to improve for the Croatia game. Indeed, much will have to improve before the Croatia game. As the Daily Mail put it, Englands performance was more “workmanlike than inspiration”- but is that not a good thing? I for one vividly recall slamming the English team in the last few tournaments for not having a good team ethic and not grinding out results. In most games the England outperform the opposition but it’s the results that count. “More workmanlike than inspirational” might have been a slight jibe from the Mail, but it’s highly likely the shrewd Fabio Capello might took it as a compliment.

If one thing is for certain though, it was that there was nothing inspirational about Englands opening goal. A cross was whipped in from the left hand side and Rooney contested for the ball against Slovenia defender Bostjan Cesar. The two tussled and fell in the now customary exchange between an attacker and defender in the penalty box, and the ball rolled out of play. Cesar looked to have had his shirt pulled by Rooney but the referee, one Jonas Eriksson, adjudged Cesar to have pulled Rooney down, and commenced to award the home side a rather fortuitous penalty. Whether influenced by the 67, 000 screaming Englishmen or the sight of Wayne Rooney clattering to the ground, England were sliced a hefty deal of luck.

Frank Lampard made no mistake with the spot kick, slotting the ball past the Slovenian goalkeeper. The penalty had been a gift and Lampard was in no mood to waste it. What with England’s infamous penalty shoot out reputation at World Cups, lets hope Lampard gives a few of the other players a few lessons.

The goal gave England a new buoyancy and the team looked more offensive and could have found the net on a few occasions. Both John Terry and Wayne Rooney hit the woodwork and the Slovenian fans could have been forgiven for thinking a thrashing was on the cards but, to their credit, Slovenia kept pressuring England and never gave them enough space, constantly chasing and harassing. The introduction of a certain striker killed off any hope off a comeback however.

Jermain Defoe’s goal came in the 63rd minute and it was a fine shot, a low shot that rumbled into the corner of the goal. The goal will certainly give Capello a headache before the Croatia game, will Heskey retain his place or will Defoe start with Rooney?

Slovenia hit a consolation late on but England looked comfortable and finished 2-1 winners in a game they were always expected to win. Their next game however will be a bit more of a task.

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