England vs. Slovenia: Old Blighty breathes a sigh of relief

The entire nation seemed to breathe a sigh of relief today as England advanced to the second round of the World Cup after outlasting Slovenia, 1-0.

Darren Staples/Reuters
England vs. Slovenia: England's Jermain Defoe (19) shoots to score past Slovenia's goalkeeper Samir Handanovic during their 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match in Port Elizabeth Wednesday.

It has not been a great World Cup for Britain so far.

“But at least we’re not French!” points out Wayne Leedham, a London taxi driver, referring to the nosedive taken by the French team.Mr. Leedham took the afternoon off Wednesday to watch the national team squeak into the next round with a 1-0 victory over Slovenia. “We have restored our dignity,” he said, "for now.”

Dave Up, who works for a flooring company, took the whole day off to cheer for Britain, a country that prides itself on being the veritable inventor of the game, but which has had a very faltering start in this World Cup.

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“I needed to prepare myself mentally, if we were going to lose,” he said.

So far, the national team’s efforts have amounted to a draw against the US and another against Algeria, not to mention a controversy surrounding former captain John Terry's comments about the low mood in the camp.

“If worst comes to worse, there is always Wimbledon,” suggests Leedham gamely. “We still have Andy Murray to make us proud!”

Leedham and Up, who spent the afternoon at a jam packed pub in Covent Garden, banging their fists into their hand and alternating between shouts of "Nooooooo,” “Whyyyyyyyy," and “Come on England," were not alone in praying for the team not to blow it.

A national obsession

The whole country seemed to have taken the afternoon off to do the same thing. Wednesday’s game was expected to cost the economy £100 million because of truancy, time off, and staff simply failing to pay attention to their work, according to estimates by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and various employment groups, as cited by the BBC and the Telegraph newspaper.

The local supermarket chain Tesco appointed a “World Cup champion” at all its stores, part of whose job was to co-ordinate shifts so that any of its 280,000 workers determined to watch the game could do so, and also communicating all important match information to the rest of the staff. And schools across the UK let students off early so they too could join in and watch.

Back at the pub, as fans fell into the streets blowing vuvuzelas (yes, they've come to England, too) and hoisting the cross of St. George flag at the final whistle, discussion soon turned to how Team England had actually managed to pull it off.

Was it the talent or the all-red uniform?

Perhaps, someone suggested, it was the lucky all-red uniform worn by the team – a uniform in which they have been undefeated over history, bar once against Brazil.

“I feel it was that. That was the deciding factor,” says Denise Bridger, a science teacher.

Or maybe, weighed in the London Times, the team was helped by being shown live on the BBC which, according to a close statistical analysis, boasts a 62 percent win record when televising England World Cup games.

In contrast, since 1982, England has had a mere 30 percent win rate when their matches have been on ITV.

Talent, take note, was not much of a topic.

“We should have won 4-0, to be honest,” admits Bridger. “But then again, we made it…and we could still turn it all around and go all the way.”

Up raises his eyebrows. “All the way,” he repeats and gives a holler. "England all the way!!"

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World Cup 101:

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