Nation on tenterhooks as businesses cross fingers for a favourable bounce

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The Independent Online

The collective anxiety that surrounds England's World Cup fate today will extend far beyond the living rooms and pubs in which millions of football fans are expected to watch the make-or-break match, as businesses across the country pray for a profit-preserving result.

Retailers and pubs had hoped that an England side in the latter stages of the tournament in South Africa would hand them a much-needed financial boost. But those hopes could be dashed by Slovenia, the smallest nation at the finals, in Port Elizabeth this afternoon.

The match is England's biggest since they faced Portugal in the World Cup quarter-finals in 2006 and, with the game falling in the middle of the week, it is expected that those meant to be at work will down tools come 3pm. A YouGov poll found 38 per cent of the full-time workforce say they are likely to miss work to watch the match.

Many businesses plan to let staff watch the game by either allowing them to go home early or letting them watch it while at work. Eric Beech, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said that giving staff time off to cheer on Fabio Capello's side could be better for productivity in the long run.

"I think it's fair to say that come 3pm today workplaces and businesses aren't going to be as productive as they would usually be," he said. "But that will be balanced out by people making up for it in other ways. Many staff will be happy to work through lunch or come in early if they are going to be allowed to watch the match.

"And if your boss shows a bit of flexibility you are going to remember it and be more likely to go above and beyond in the future."

But many businesses will apparently not be adopting a flexible approach. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry ((LCCI) says that 62 per cent of businesses in the capital will not allow staff to watch the match.

Peter Bishop, the deputy chief executive of the LCCI, said: "While many employers will be allowing staff to cheer on England, for some companies, particularly smaller ones, they simply can't afford the drop off in productivity."

Retailers who have invested in England merchandise will also be hoping for a home-nation victory. Yesterday it was reported that Sainsbury's and branches of Sports Direct had begun discounting items which will be all but worthless should England crash out. A Sainsbury's spokesman said: "Many items in our stores are on offer or promotion as we seek to provide our customers with the best possible value."

It had been reckoned that an England team in the final would be worth about £2bn to the economy with a football-driven spending spree. Should Wayne Rooney and Co crash out after just three matches, that estimate would be severely revised.

A similar estimate was that 211 million extra pints of beer would be drunk in Britain during the tournament, though it is unlikely the drinks will flow quite so freely should England fail to qualify from the group stages for the first time since 1958.

It is thought that 3 million people will watch today's match in pubs, spending an estimated £15m, though with only 500 Slovenians officially living in the UK, sales of Laško, the country's biggest-selling beer, are not expected to account for much of that.

Mark Hastings, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: "Clearly the longer England stay in the World Cup, the better it will be for the pubs. Many of them will be hoping England stay in to the latter stages because momentum builds and you get customers in the pub that wouldn't normally be there. That said, I think that the smart pubs will only have budgeted for the three guaranteed group games. It would have been foolish to look beyond that.

"We don't expect that today's game will be as busy for the pubs as it was against the USA or Algeria, mainly because those games fell on a Friday and Saturday night. The £15m estimate is based on England winning because if they don't, in our experience, people tend to drift away rather quickly. Mind you, that probably won't be the case in Scotland."

Those who watch the game at home are set to cause a large energy surge. The National Grid is braced for a massive surge in demand as millions turn on their televisions – and then their kettles at half-time. England's last crucial match on a working day, against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, created the second biggest TV pick-up of all time at 2,570MW.

Not interested? try these...

* As those who suffer its endless tailbacks and maddening congestion on a daily basis will testify, the M25 often appears to be Britain's biggest carpark rather than its busiest motorway. But between 3pm and 5pm today it will likely be a four-lane oasis of free- flowing traffic. If, for some reason, you would like to spend an afternoon circling Greater London, today will be your best opportunity.

* Lunch at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant is normally one of the hottest tickets in town. Reservations are made months in advance. But, if you would rather swap the football for a fillet of pork, his flagship eaterie on Hospital Road can fit you in this afternoon. A three-course lunch is £45 per person and wine starts at £38. If you eat quickly you'll catch the second half.

* Wimbledon queues are a feature of the event, with people sleeping out every year in a bid to get the best seats. But this is only the second time in more than a decade that the Championship has clashed with an England World Cup game, so maybe they might be shorter than usual today.

Why supporters should be optimistic

The red kit

England will play in red shirts and shorts today, and have never lost playing in an all-red strip. They have worn red shirts and red shorts four times: in 1962, when they beat Peru 4-0 and drew 0-0 with Bulgaria, in 1963 when they beat Czechoslovakia 4-2, and in 1970 when they beat Belgium 3-1.

The game is on the BBC

Since 1982, when World Cup finals games were split between the UK's two main terrestrial channels for the first time, England have won 62 per cent of their games aired on BBC and just 30 per cent of those shown on ITV.

England also have a better goal difference for their games on BBC: 12 compared with just four on ITV.

It's a must-win final group match

* In Mexico '86, England had lost to Portugal and drawn with Morocco before they thrashed Poland 3-0.

* In Italia '90, after drawing with Ireland and the Netherlands, Bobby Robson's men dramatically beat Egypt 1-0 to reach the knockout stage.

* In France '98 after beating Tunisia, England lost to Romania and went into their final game against Colombia in 1998 needing to avoid defeat to make it into the next round. They won 2-0.

It's a Wednesday

Fabio Capello's first game in charge of England, in February 2008, was on a Wednesday, when his team beat Switzerland 2-1. Since then, England have played 14 matches on Wednesdays, winning 10 of them and losing twice. They have scored 40 goals in these 15 matches, conceding 14.

It's like 1966 all over again

* 1966 was also an election year.

* North Korea have only qualified for the finals twice – in 1966 and 2010.

* In 1966 Spain were the European champions. In 2010 the European Champions are... Spain.

* In 1966 France, Mexico and Uruguay were in a group with the hosts, England. This year France, Mexico and Uruguay are again in the same group as the hosts (South Africa).

The referee

Germany's Wolfgang Stark, 40, has been selected as referee. England have won all three of their games in which he has officiated.

The manager

Capello has won silverware with every team he has managed.

The group

Two of the last three World Cup winners have been in Group C.