Relief. That was the emotion as the final whistle blew yesterday. I had hoped and expected England would beat Slovenia, but to get the job done is a different matter.
I was pleased for Jermain Defoe that he started and scored, but then again I look across the squad and wonder where the goals are meant to come from. Sure, England have conceded only one, but scoring just two in this group is not a great statistic.
As I've written before, if I had been picking the squad, I would have taken five strikers with Darren Bent among them. I hope I'm wrong and goals will flow from somewhere else.
But at the start of the match, when I saw that Stevie Gerrard was stuck out on the left – again – another emotion was dominant. It was frustration, and it remained throughout the game and afterwards because, frankly, whatever the improvements in the way England played, keeping him out near the wing is simply not the way to get the best out of him.
I would have liked to see him play centrally behind Wayne Rooney, and there was strong speculation he was going to, but for whatever reason Fabio Capello stuck with the left-sided deployment. I'm not going to tell Il Capo his job but for me, that's still a strange ploy.
On the subject of Rooney, I now think there is something else bothering him, something physical. That's my impression as someone who knows Wayne and who played for club and country as a striker. My instinct is that he's carrying a knock; it's clearly not serious and I couldn't say if it's his ankle or his groin but he's not 100 per cent.
If it's minor (and it looks that way), he should be fine and improving come Sunday. I'm sure there's something physical because there were just tell-tale signs in his hesitancy. He had a decent shot saved, for example, but a 100 per cent Rooney would be slamming those home, as he would have for Manchester United last season. On the positive side, Wayne worked his socks off, roaming freely. He was more involved and played better than in the first two games, and he's evidently hungry for more. I think we'll see another step-up in the next match too. His time is coming.
So what next? England would have left that pitch knowing that whoever they face this weekend, it is going to represent a challenge. There are few easy games.
England finished second because, over three games, they were second best of four teams. I've written before in this column that England and the USA would finish one and two but there was no certainty about the order.
England are ranked eighth in the world because there are seven better nations, at least, and they're all in South Africa. I think the next match is far from a given and then England could well find themselves knocked out in the quarter- finals. I'd like to believe differently – and I hope I'm wrong – but the quarters would be England's level.
Anyone who saw Argentina keep the ball against Greece on Tuesday and then break down a negative and bullying side to score twice, should realise they operate at a different level to England. Greece tried to kick Lionel Messi out of the game and failed, and play was dictated by a 35-year-old, Juan Sebastian Veron, because his class in an international shirt endures.
I'm pleased England won. But let's maintain some perspective.Reuse content