England holds its breath ahead of crunch World Cup game

Lampard and GerrardMillions of England [ ] football fans will take a break from work on Wednesday to watch their must-win match against tiny Slovenia, praying their side lifts its game to avoid being dumped out of the World Cup.

Many schools will close early to allow children to watch, while union leaders have urged employers to allow staff to take time out to cheer on England's struggling national side.

Despite its claim to be the birthplace of football, England has only won the trophy once, in 1966, and its failure to repeat that success is a perennial source of tortured soul-searching.

After two dismal draws, talk of unrest in the camp and criticism of star player Wayne Rooney [ ], many fear the long wait for glory will drag on for another four years.

The gloomy mood in Britain deepened on the eve of the big game when the finance minister George Osborne announced the deepest public spending cuts in decades in an emergency budget.

"Cheer us all up boys," the Sun newspaper pleaded in a banner headline over a story that urged England's footballers to lift the nation after the pain of the "brutal" budget.

Osborne weighed into the national debate, telling a television interviewer he would have picked Joe Cole [ ], the Chelsea midfielder who has yet to play in this World Cup.

England, ranked eighth in the world, must beat Slovenia -- ranked 25th and with a population of 2 million -- to guarantee a place in the tournament's knockout stage.

The last time England fell in the first round was in 1958, although they failed to qualify for the tournament in 1974, 1978 and 1994.

The England side -- criticised by many as overpaid and underperforming -- must raise their game after they only managed to draw with the United States and Algeria in their first games.

With anticipation growing, the Trades Union Congress urged bosses to be flexible and allow workers to take a break.

"We'd encourage them to let people watch the games if they like and then claim back their time afterwards," said TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber. "That way, everyone wins."

Six out of 10 companies will allow staff to watch the game, according to a survey by energy company npower.

The British Beer and Pub Association, a trade body, said three million people will watch the game in their local pub, with the industry taking an extra 15 million pounds.

British soldiers in Afghanistan were pictured waving red and white St George's flags and blowing vuvuzelas. They won't see the game live, but will have a chance to see a replay later.

With sunny and warm weather forecast, music lovers at the huge open-air Glastonbury Festival, in southwest England, can watch the action on a giant screen on one of the main stages.

However, the Wimbledon [ ] tennis tournament will be a football-free zone after organisers banned vuvuzelas and said they won't be showing any soccer on the big screens.

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