PORT ELIZABETH, June 23 – Fabio Capello was all smiles after watching his England rediscover their form to qualify for the last 16 of the World Cup with a 1-0 win over Slovenia on Wednesday.
The victory secured them the runners-up spot in Group C and a second round date in Bloemfontein on Sunday where old enemies Germany could be waiting.
Jermain Defoe saved England from a humiliating first round exit, the Tottenham striker who had replaced Emile Heskey volleying home in the 23rd minute.
Capello’s relief was obvious after seeing his players come back from the edge of World Cup humiliation after two poor opening draws with the United States and Algeria.
"That’s the team that I know," the Italian said. "That’s the spirit that I remember from our qualifying games, the spirit that they had lost in our last game (the drab goalless draw with Algeria).
"The team’s performance was really very good, we created lots of chances for the second goal but couldn’t get it. We had to suffer in the last few minutes, it was very important to win today."
Wayne Rooney was just one member of Capello’s side that put his lacklustre showing in the first two matches to one side to produce a performance more in keeping with his standing as one of the world’s top strikers.
The Manchester United star made way for Joe Cole with 20 minutes to go with Capello explaining: "I took Wayne off because his ankle wasn’t feeling too good.
"I don’t know exactly what he’s got but I’m not concerned, I think he’ll be okay for our next game on Sunday."
England’s build-up to a game that was going to make or break their World Cup campaign was overshadowed by John Terry’s failed challenge to Capello’s tough regime and his resistance in picking Cole, one of England’s best players at the 2006 World Cup.
Capello had described his former captain’s failed mutiny as "a big mistake" and had called on him to produce "a big performance" against Slovenia.
And Terry did just that, with a series of potentially match-saving tackles and blocks as he led England’s defence.
"Yes, Terry’s a leader on the pitch," Capello said. "He put in a really important performance."
The England boss believes his team, having extricated themselves from the first round, will now take flight into a free-flowing unit.
"Yes I think we will play with more confidence now. The quality of my players is very good, they’ve improved a lot physically."
Asked at the post-match press conference how he had gone about rediscovering England’s lost zest he replied: "I talked to the players, I showed them the first half of our last match, they understood that wasn’t the good way to go forward.
"They became more focused in training, training was good, fast, we saw the same (level) that we see in the Premier League."
With the United States grabbing an injury time goal to beat Algeria and snatch top spot in Group C England could be up against Germany next.
Capello though was unconcerned by the identity of his team’s next rivals.
"It could be Germany or Serbia, they are two good teams, but we have to go forward to meet all the teams so it’s not important where they come from.
"Germany…Serbia, it’s the same."
Before leaving he was asked whether he would allow his players a celebratory beer.
After the question had been transalated for him he nodded, smiled, and said: "I let them have a beer last night, you can ask!"