LONDON - England supporters breathed a
sigh of relief after the country's stuttering team clawed their
way into the World Cup second round on Wednesday.
An improved performance in a 1-0 win over Slovenia helped
fans forget a poor group stage campaign that left England
needing a win to make sure they avoided going home early.
Millions of anxious supporters broke off from work to watch
the afternoon game on television in pubs or on big screens and
schoolchildren were allowed to finish classes early.
"The World Cup starts now," said Stuart Barnett, 32, a
broker watching the Group C game at the Hoop and Grapes, a
packed pub in central London.
Instead of the boos that greeted stilted draws against the
U.S. and Algeria, renditions of the national anthem rang out in
the Port Elizabeth stadium and cheers went up across London.
"It's their first decent performance," Scott Parrish, 21,
another broker said after England, among the pre-tournament
favourites, came second in the group behind the United States.
Tens of thousands watched the game on big screens at the
Glastonbury music festival in south-west England and cheers
erupted on Centre Court during the Wimbledon tennis tournament
when news of the score filtered through.
The court was almost three-quarters empty when five-times
champion Venus Williams came on to play.
But about 300 homes in Manchester, northern England, were
without electricity during the match, the BBC reported. Parts of
south-west London also suffered power cuts.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was pictured catching a
glimpse of the game during his busy schedule.
Fans at the Hoop and Grapes got behind England, ranked
eighth in the world, ignoring rumblings of dressing room
divisions and criticism of manager Fabio Capello.
"I thought they played very well today. A bit more team
spirit, they pulled together," said Emma Voss, 29, an IT worker.
"They play better when they have everything to lose."
But nails were bitten until the final whistle, with England
failing to finish off a team ranked 25th in the world, and with
a population of two million - the smallest at the tournament.
"We'll still struggle against the top teams," said Jake
Nutley, 20, a sprinkler fitter.
Despite England's claim to be the birthplace of the game,
they have only won the trophy once, on home soil in 1966.
The last time England failed to get past the first round was
in 1958, although they did not qualify for the World Cup finals
in 1974, 1978 and 1994.
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