After a turbulent week, there was a hug of unity at the end as England dragged themselves away from the World Cup abyss and into the arms of old foe Germany.
Jermain Defoe nudged home the first-half winner that propelled England into the last 16, but when Landon Donovan struck in injury-time for the United States against Algeria in Pretoria, it condemned England to face the winners of Group D in Bloemfontein on Sunday.
A couple of hours later the Germans duly obliged, courtesy of a 1-0 win over Ghana.
It sets up the prospect of an amazing one-two given Diego Maradona’s Argentina are potential quarter-final opponents, but Fabio Capello will not be looking any further than next weekend even if his only England experience against Germany is a winning one thanks to that friendly triumph in Berlin in November 2008.
John Terry got the winner that night, one of his happier times in an England shirt, and a great bear hug from Capello at the end of England’s victory here confirmed the turmoil he unleashed on Sunday has truly been forgiven.
Defoe was the hero though, justifying his manager’s decision to select him above Emile Heskey.
The Spurs man turned matchwinner on a night when England found themselves again, producing all the verve and fire their manager knows they are so capable of.
Days of rancour gave way to the sheer exhilaration of seeing a team play in the manner of old, and though their profligacy ensured there were some nervy moments to survive before victory could be achieved, in the end they made it.
The men who combined to give England that crucial, crucial goal were both exorcising a personal ghost.
It has almost been forgotten it is so long ago, but right at the beginning of England’s World Cup campaign, Defoe was a starter for Capello.
Hauled off after a goalless 45 minutes against Andorra in Barcelona, Defoe was condemned to the role of impact substitute for the remainder of the qualifiers, admittedly scoring three times in the process.
James Milner’s wound is much fresher. Always a Capello favourite, the Aston Villa man was asked to plug a hole on the left of England’s midfield for the opening encounter with the United States.
Given a right old chasing by Carlos Bocanegra, the 24-year-old was hauled off after half an hour and must have wondered if he would see any more action in South Africa.
Capello is intensely loyal though. Deciding he needed more defensive solidity than Aaron Lennon can provide, the Italian turned to Milner for the right-sided role.
His early contribution was riddled with mistakes, but the cross he swung deep into the Slovenia box midway through that opening period was almost Beckham-esque.
Defoe had made his way into the danger zone, like any instinctive marksman would, got just in front of Marko Suler and stuck out his leg, prodding the ball goalwards with enough power to get it past Samir Handanovic.
It had taken Defoe 23 minutes to achieve what Heskey had managed once in eight years; a competitive goal.
Visibly, the pressure lifted from English shoulders.
The high-tempo, quick passing, tigerish pressing game Capello had yearned for, and which temperatures of a South African winter suit so well, suddenly appeared, and so did the opportunities.
Frank Lampard and skipper Steven Gerrard had the first couple before half-time, the Liverpool man knowing he would have scored if he had put more power behind a side-footed effort after a hitherto quiet Wayne Rooney had provided the superb square ball.
Capello cut a frustrated figure when, eight yards out and completely unmarked, Defoe made no contact after Barry had lofted a pass into a Slovenia penalty area in a state of confusion thanks to some selfless running from Rooney.
Terry brought a brilliant save out of Handanovic before the goalkeeper tipped a Rooney shot onto the base of a post after the striker’s unchecked run into the penalty area had been spotted by Lampard.
It was sumptuous fare lifted directly from the Premier League, the kind of football that prompted Capello to make his “crazy” claim that England could reach the final in Soccer City on July 11.
In a week for apologies and forgiveness, the England supporters responded by showing they bore no hard feelings for Rooney’s rant in Cape Town by chanting his name with gusto, although on the second occasion it was for their talisman’s exit – unhappily – to make way for Joe Cole to make his long-awaited bow.
Amid the euphoria at finding a team, one fairly large problem was being overlooked. England’s lead remained stuck at one and could so easily be snatched away.
Had first John Terry, then Glen Johnson, not thrown themselves in front of Slovenian shots, the smallest country in the tournament would have had their equaliser and England would have been out.
Ultimately though, pride was restored and a sigh of relief could be breathed.
Slovenia: Samir Handanovic, Brecko, Suler, Cesar, Jokic, Birsa, Koren, Radosavljevic, Kirm (Matavz 79), Ljubijankic (Dedic 62), Novakovic.
Subs Not Used: Jasmin Handanovic, Dzinic, Ilic, Pecnik, Krhin, Filekovic, Komac, Stevanovic, Mavric, Seliga.
Booked: Jokic, Birsa, Dedic.
England: James, Johnson, Upson, Terry, Ashley Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Milner, Rooney (Joe Cole 72), Defoe (Heskey 86).
Subs Not Used: Green, Dawson, Lennon, Crouch, Warnock, Wright-Phillips, Carrick, Hart.
Goals: Defoe 22.
Ref: Wolfgang Stark (Germany).