Another England World Cup rollercoaster: It’s time to hold on tight

They score, the fans erupt, then the Three Lions tick another box in their tournament list with a huge blunder.
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The Independent Online

England's bid for World Cup glory in South Africa got off to a stuttering start when a goalkeeping blunder allowed the US to hold them to a 1-1 draw in their opening game last night.

In South Africa, thousands of English fans flooded the small mining town of Rustenburg ahead of their team's opening game, and noisily made their presence felt as excitement built throughout the day. Many came wearing fancy dress, with St George's flags as capes. Many more had acquired a vuvuzela – the plastic trumpet used by South Africans to celebrate.

"They are crazy and they are drunks," joked the face painter Tshepo Dew, 21, at a pub across the road from the 38,646-seater Royal Bafokeng stadium. "I'm supporting England, too. They have got all the stars. We want to see Rooney score."

Back in the UK, the streets fell silent as millions huddled around television screens to wait for kick-off. Fans in capes, face masks and wigs from England, the US and South Africa were in high spirits as they mingled in the bars.

An estimated 15,000-strong crowd filled Manchester city centre to watch the game on a giant screen, and other major cities reported large crowds gathering. In Afghanistan, British troops watched on screens at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province.

Fans were soon rewarded when England's captain, Steven Gerrard, put England 1-0 ahead, although viewers of ITV's high-definition service missed the goal because the station had switched to ads. Presenter Adrian Chiles apologised and ITV said later it was caused by a "transmission" problem. One irate viewer tweeted: "We get to see the individual blades of grass but not the goals."

But elation turned to dejection in the 40th minute when goalkeeper Rob Green fumbled a seemingly straightforward shot, the ball bouncing off his right glove and trundling over the line, allowing the US to equalise. Afterwards, England manager Fabio Capello had no regrets over his choice of keeper. "He played the last game very well, [against Mexico at] Wembley," Capello said, adding that in this match: "He made one mistake but in the second half he made also a good save. That's the problem of the keeper."

At the Albion pub in Shoreditch, east London, the disappointing England performance was greeted with stoicism. Draped in a St George's flag, David Hammond, 29, from Hackney, said: "Capello will give them a bloody good rollocking. He's far less accepting of such basic errors than that previous wally with the brolly."

Others were more scathing. "This group was supposed to be easy," said Anoop Ajay, a 30-year-old film distributor from Camden. "But tonight we've seen typical England – yellow cards, own goals and early substitutions. England hoofed the ball about aimlessly. Didn't create any chances. Utterly mediocre."

At the Black Grape pub in Haringey, north London, Larry Quin, 32, from Connecticut, said: "England should be embarrassed. They were favourites to win. If that was their A-game, they're not going to last very long in the World Cup."

Police reported a few arrests, but said most fans had behaved well.

Back in Rustenberg, England fan David Yarwood, 24, from Oxford, said: "We never do well at the start. We never make it easy for ourselves. But at the end of the day if we can't beat teams like Algeria and Slovenia we don't deserve to be here."

Earlier, a Briton, said by police to have a history of inciting racial violence, was banned from entering South Africa. The man, 42, believed to be a Peterborough supporter, was stopped at Johannesburg international airport after arriving on a Heathrow flight, and was sent back to Britain. He was not subject to a banning order.

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