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England 2-1 Slovenia

Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe
Substitute Defoe is congratulated after his second-half goal

By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Wembley

England warmed up for the crucial World Cup qualifier against Croatia on Wednesday with victory over Slovenia at Wembley.

Frank Lampard's disputed first-half penalty - an award that left the Slovenians complaining bitterly that Wayne Rooney had tumbled too easily under challenge from Bostjan Cesar - put England on course for the win.

And Jermain Defoe pressed his claims for inclusion in the game that could stamp England's passport to South Africa by adding a clinical finish to the double he scored against the Netherlands in Amsterdam last month.

Coach Fabio Capello will not be entirely satisfied by his team's showing, with too many moments of defensive carelessness ahead of the date with old adversaries Croatia, who shattered England's hopes of reaching Euro 2008 the last time the sides met at Wembley.

Zlatan Ljubijankic took advantage of slack marking to steal in score with a header after 85 minutes, but England survived in comfort to record a victory they deserved.

It was a low-key encounter - but threw up two major talking points that will provide an intriguing backdrop to the meeting with Croatia.

Slovenia were furious at Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson's decision to award a penalty when Rooney went to ground as he wrestled for possession with Cesar. The Slovenia defender insisted he had been fouled, and it looked a highly-debatable decision.

And Spurs striker Defoe produced a second-half display, capped by another goal, that suggested he should be given serious consideration for the starting line-up against Croatia.

Emile Heskey's bustling, unselfish style appears to be Capello's preferred option, but Defoe demonstrated once again that there is no comparison between the pair when it comes to the art of goalscoring.


Robert Green was another star playing for high stakes in his battle to be England's first-choice goalkeeper in the absence of David James - and he had an eventful start as Slovenia dominated the opening exchanges.

He was fortunate not to be penalised for handling outside his area as he collected a long clearance, and then risked giving away a penalty as he drove Milijove Novakovic wide before the Slovenian shot over the top from an angle.

England took their time to settle, but once the early endeavour evaporated from the Slovenians, they were able to assume a measure of superiority.

Rooney almost put England ahead on 21 minutes when he collected Heskey's header, but saw his goal-bound shot on the turn deflected over the top by Miso Brecko.

John Terry headed the resulting corner against the bar, and was then off target with an acrobatic overhead kick from the rebound.

England took the lead 14 minutes before the interval - and in highly-contentious circumstances that left the Slovenians, and defender Cesar in particular, incensed.

Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney
Lampard converted from the spot after Rooney had been fouled

There appeared little more than routine contact as Rooney tussled for possession with the defender, but as the Manchester United striker fell to the ground referee Eriksson pointed to the spot, presumably for shirt pulling and to Wembley's widespread surprise.

Lampard dispatched a low penalty in emphatic fashion, and Slovenia saw injury added to the insult as Cesar limped off after appearing to sustain an ankle problem in the clash with Rooney.

Rooney, inevitably, was at the heart of the action and he should have added his and England's second three minutes later, only to stab a finish against the post from inside the six-yard box with Slovenia keeper Samir Handanovic stranded.

Steven Gerrard then shot inches wide from long-range as England ended the half in the ascendancy, having regained some composure after their earlier uncertainty.

Gerrard was one of four changes at the interval, when Shaun Wright-Phillips, Heskey and Lampard were also taken off, to be replaced by Defoe, Aaron Lennon, James Milner and Michael Carrick.

And Defoe, who has started the new campaign in blistering fashion, made his impact on 63 minutes with a precise, low finish from 20 yards.

Rooney was denied again with 19 minutes remaining. He looked certain to score when he received Lennon's cross, but Matej Mavricrozic scrambled the ball off the line.

Slovenia then had their best chance, but Zlatko Dedic headed wide from Valter Birsa's cross after stealing into the penalty area unmarked.

The game ended with a blemish for England as Ljubijankic got in ahead of substitute Joleon Lescott to score - but Capello's side closed out the win and can now turn their attention to the main business of securing qualification for South Africa.

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see also
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