US and England breathe life in World Cup

Zeenews Bureau

Port Elizabeth: It was a day of sporadic changes in Group C of the FIFA World Cup 2010 as England shook off a distressing start to beat a gritty Slovenia and squeeze into the second round while the United States booked their place with a last-gasp goal against a shell-shocked Algeria.

With Group C reaching a dramatic finale in simultaneous games, Landon Donovan struck in the second minute of injury time to spark wild joy in Pretoria among American fans and players alike. The 1-0 win gave them first place in the group.

"I`m just shocked and so proud of our guys, unbelievable," ecstatic midfielder Donovan said. "We`re alive, baby!"

The result put Algeria out -- another disappointment for Africans whose teams are flopping at the continent`s first World Cup. Donovan`s late goal was also shattering for Slovenia, the tournament`s smallest nation with a population of just over two million people, who would otherwise have gone through.

With fellow European power France`s ignominious first-round exit an example they did not want to follow, England looked brighter against Slovenia than in the two draws from their opening matches that touched off a mini-crisis in the camp.

England Smile at Last

Striker Jermain Defoe, brought in as part of a team shakeup by manager Fabio Capello, connected with a James Milner cross in the 23rd minute to notch a goal and give some relief to the hordes of English supporters in Port Elizabeth.

Though England created more chances, they never looked as slick as other big name teams like Brazil or Argentina have done in the tournament. Capello, however, said the result should lift the pressure on his players going forward.

"The mind now is free, without fear," he said, a smile replacing the permanent scowl of previous days.

England`s relieved players hugged on the pitch at the end in a public show of unity after reports of dissent in the camp.

Later on Wednesday, another stuttering European soccer power, Germany, also fight to stay in the tournament against Ghana`s Black Stars who appear Africa`s best remaining hope.

At the same time, Australia play against Serbia in Group D`s other game. The Socceroos, bottom on one point after two games, need a big win to have any chance of qualifying.

The first World Cup in Africa has so far been a struggle for Europe with former champions France heading home after a demoralising player revolt that has shocked their nation.

So serious is Les Bleus` implosion that President Nicolas Sarkozy called a government meeting on Wednesday to analyse the case and was also to meet senior player Thierry Henry.

Latins Lead

Hosts South Africa beat France on Tuesday night to send them home bottom of their group with just one point.

"In 11 days of competition, Raymond Domenech`s gang has succeeded in becoming the laughing stock of the entire world, a mix of arrogance, incompetence, a lack of talent and professionalism," said France Soir newspaper.

The French antics, where the players rebelled over the sending home of striker Nicolas Anelka for insulting the coach, caused one of the most extraordinary scandals at a World Cup.

South Africa, too, are out, but at least held their heads high, garnering four points, losing out only on goal difference, and ending with that surprise win over the French.

Bafana Bafana`s elimination has quietened the vuvuzela trumpets a little but the nation remains proud of the achievements of its underdog team and even more of its success in organising a successful tournament, despite years of gloomy predictions from critics that it would be a disaster.

"We might have lost the game but we`re still winning because we`re hosting the World Cup," said trainee pilot Katiya Mongezi, pausing for breath from blowing his vuvuzela during celebrations on Tuesday night in Johannesburg`s ritzy Sandton district.

Argentina have led Latin American dominance of the World Cup so far, Diego Maradona`s team brimming with confidence after a perfect first round record of three wins.

The artistry of Argentina, Brazil and even smaller Latin American teams too has been in sharp contrast to the relatively weak African and European performances.

Chile`s players, who have won two games out of two, say a ripped and muddy flag rescued from the debris of February`s massive earthquake has helped inspire them.

They have hung it on a flagpole by their training pitch.

"We`re trying to bring a little happiness to all those people who suffered," said centre back Waldo Ponce.

Later in the day, Germany maintained their proud record of having never failed to qualify from the group stages at a World Cup with a narrow 1-0 win over Ghana and booked a round of 16 berth as Group D winners.