England's World Cup comes alive
World Cup 2010: Port Elizabeth
The inquests can go on hold as England's World Cup campaign finally showed belated signs of life on the edge of the Indian Ocean - and no-one was more relieved than Fabio Capello.
Capello's elation at the win against Slovenia, a result that ensured England avoided the humiliation of failing to negotiate the group stages for the first time since 1958, was so all-consuming that the Italian's guard momentarily slipped.
At the final whistle, he allowed himself a rare display of public affection as he embraced James Milner and Matthew Upson, then delivered a post-match analysis that, for Capello at least, almost bordered on the flamboyant.
It may have been a victory against the smallest nation at this World Cup, but the price of defeat was so high its cost would have been shared by Capello, his players and the Football Association.
Capello's undisguised joy was understandable. The man who prides himself on being impervious to pressure showed he is as vulnerable as anyone as the valve was released when referee Wolfgang Stark concluded events at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Hard evidence was impossible to detect before England met Slovenia, especially in the dire deadlock with Algeria. This was hardly concrete proof that England are contenders to win the tournament, but at least there were signs they might make yet make a serious impact in South Africa.
At the end of a week when Capello and England's players were rightly pilloried for their performance against Algeria and there was talk of a mini-revolt behind the iron gates of their Rustenburg training base, a World Cup exit in Port Elizabeth was unthinkable.
It would have, in all likelihood, ended Capello's reign and failure on such a scale might also have resulted in a wide-ranging investigation into the very fabric of English football.
So victory was Capello and England's only option, no matter how they achieved it. The fact that England did it with something approaching style was an added bonus.
Capello revealed he even loosened the strings by offering his players the chance of a beer the night before the game, an offer that was apparently refused. And he was in expansive mood as he looked like a man who had been reacquainted with old friends.
He claimed England's spirit had been rediscovered and they were now ready to meet all the challenges ahead. Quite a reacton - some might say over-reaction - to a win against a country with more brown bears than professional footballers.
And challenges there will be, with a last 16 meeting against Germany in Bloemfontein followed by a potential quarter-final confrontation with Diego Maradona's Argentina.
As so many negatives have surrounded England and Capello, it is a relief to report genuine signs of progress, although this all must be placed in context by the standard of opposition.
And England cannot escape the charge that their failings in draws against the United States and Algeria have presented them with a hazardous World Cup path to negotiate.
Capello's big calls against the United States were criticised here. Robert Green's selection in goal had catastrophic consequences, injury-plagued Ledley King did not last the course and James Milner was replaced after 30 minutes.
England's coach deserves credit this time. Jermain Defoe justified his selection with the winner, a lesson for Capello who finally accepted Emile Heskey's role as non-scoring striker was no longer viable, while Milner returned to create the goal and finally provide proper service from the flanks.
Capello's big players also rose to the occasion. Steven Gerrard, England's best player in South Africa so far, was the pick again as he drove forward relentlessly and reaped the benefit from playing in closer attendance to Wayne Rooney.
The pair looked more potent without Capello tampering too much with his tried and trusted 4-4-2 framework. Without getting carried away, it is the foundation for increased optimism about England.
And in defence Terry was outstanding, proving once again that he has the strength of character to park off-the-field controversies when the action starts.
England played with the high tempo that suits them, looked better on the ball with Gareth Barry having a greater influence until he tired.
Rooney's fitness still remains a worry as he nurses an ankle injury. He has also temporarily lost his touch in front of goal, but there was enough good signs to offer encouragement.
The result has wider significance in lifting a cloud that has hung over England since their arrival in Rustenburg. Capello's men finally looked like they were enjoying their work at long last.
England beating Slovenia is not a cause for national pride or rejoicing, more a sense of relief, and it would be a return to old failings if the law was suddenly laid down to teams who have shown far more since the World Cup started.
But England and Capello should be thankful for small mercies. They can now plan for the last 16 as opposed to flying out of Johannesburg and into one of the biggest storms of criticism they have ever faced.
Has England's World Cup finally started? We will soon receive the answer.
ENGLAND PLAYER RATINGS
DAVID JAMES: Solid performance. Safe handling when presented with treacherous six-yard area. 7.
GLEN JOHNSON: Good going forward again and made crucial block. Harshly booked for diving. 7.
ASHLEY COLE: Steady as ever. 6.
JOHN TERRY: Commanding and committed after a traumatic week. Almost scored with a header. 8.
MATTHEW UPSON: Nervous in the early stages but superb saving tackle late on. 7.
JAMES MILNER: Also showed some nerves at the start but settled to deliver a fine cross for Jermain Defoe's goal and redeemed himself after poor first game against the United States. 7.
GARETH BARRY: Looked fitter than he did against Algeria and knitted it together well in midfield until he tired. 6.
FRANK LAMPARD: Improved performance and nice touches. 6.
STEVEN GERRARD: Top man again. Led by example and was an influence throughout. England's best player in the World Cup up to this stage. 8.
WAYNE ROONEY: Better than against Algeria, showing some real touches of class but should have scored with a second-half chance. 6.
JERMAIN DEFOE: Took his goal with his usual poacher's instinct. 6.
JOE COLE: Energetic cameo. 6.
EMILE HESKEY: Brief appearance. No rating.