After the build-up, the let-down. The 24 hours that had been designated England Football Day culminated in one of those frustrating opening games the country often produces to begin a major tournament. As against Paraguay four years ago they scored in the fourth minute, but this time were unable to hang on to the lead and, like the 1990 and 2002 competitions, began with a frustrating 1-1 draw.
Once again, too, England paid the price for a calamitous goalkeeping error and for taking players with injury problems to World Cups. Robert Green was the unfortunate keeper, and Ledley King has already been ruled out of Friday's game in Cape Town against Algeria, who face Slovenia at lunchtime today.
The Americans, as expected, were vigorous opposition and they equalised Steven Gerrard's goal with one from Fulham's Clint Dempsey, gifted by Green. That makes one clean sheet in 10 games all season.
Gerrard and Aaron Lennon were among England's better performers but Wayne Rooney had a quiet game and has now scored only once this season for England. Emile Heskey, chosen to partner him, made the goal for Gerrard but failed to take his one good opportunity, leaving him on seven international goals in 58 games.
From the cabalash of Soccer City to the open mixing bowl of Rustenburg, smallest of the 11 stadiums being used at the tournament, with cover on only one side. There were numerous empty seats and it was difficult to gauge how many England supporters made it. They had a goal to cheer in only the fourth minute, but the disappointment was being unable to build on it before conceding the shocking equaliser shortly before half-time.
Suspicions that the US defence could prove the team's weak link appeared to be confirmed when they were caught dozing at an England throw-in on the right. Frank Lampard moved the ball into the danger area and Heskey turned it deftly into the path of Liverpool's Gerrard, who beat Everton'sTim Howard with relish.
Even Fabio Capello looked quite excited. He will have been dismayed, however, at the way England failed to capitalise. Gerrard, who often seems to wear captaincy responsibilities heavily, seemed determined to keep things tight and sat very deep.
Lampard did not go forward and although Lennon on the right was prepared to have a run, there was a problem on the other flank. Milner, apparently ruled out earlier in the week, had been given his first competitive start but was never in the game.
He should have been booked in the first few minutes for one bad tackle and finally received a yellow card from the Brazilian referee midway through the first half; Capello almost immediately sent the order for Shaun Wright-Phillips to replace him.
That was not the only worry. The Americans' only selection decision had been which two strikers to pick and they found a lively pair in Robbie Findley of the little-known Real Salt Lake and Hull's Jozy Altidore. That pair kept John Terry and King busy – King, as expected, was the replacement for Rio Ferdinand, who sat disconsolately in the dug-out.
Altidore should have equalised after 20 minutes, producing a feeble glancing header to meet Landon Donovan's perfectly chipped cross. Questions would have been asked of King had it gone in. Donovan, veering across to his right, sent a shot narrowly wide and four minutes later the Americans went one better.
There seemed little danger – there was none – as Dempsey collected the ball some 20 yards out in the inside-left channel. His shot was too low to benefit from any deviation caused by altitude but Green failed to get his body behind it and the ball squirmed from his hand and dribbled almost apologetically over the line.
For the start of the second half there was another England change. King, now suffering a groin strain, stayed in the dressing-room and Jamie Carragher, talked out of retirement only a few weeks ago, came on. He was soon booked for a reckless tackle on Findley, quickly followed by a card for Gerrard. Other than that, the half began more to the manager's liking with the adventurous Lennon creating two chances.
For the first he cut to the byline as he loves to do, only to pull the ball back just behind Rooney; then a lovely through ball gave Heskey the opportunity to add to his meagre scoring record. The shot was fierce but straight at a grateful Howard.
Lampard, having an otherwise quiet game, hit a left-footed drive that the goalkeeper turned for a corner, from which Glen Johnson shot weakly and wide. Worryingly, Carragher was then totally outpaced by Altidore coming in from the left and Green did well to push the angled shot on to a post.
In a better spell of England pressure, Rooney, with minimal backlift, sent Lampard's short pass wide; Howard beat out Wright-Phillips' shot from close in; and Heskey climbed to meet Gerrard's cross but headed over.
It was the striker's last involvement as he made way for Crouch, who many would have preferred to see start the game. The Villa man was a physical presence and won some headers but he again failed at the business of putting the ball between the white posts.
England's keeping howlers
David Seaman v Brazil 2002 England's second most-capped keeper was caught off his line by a Ronaldinho free-kick in the World Cup quarter-final. The goal proved to be the winner for Brazil, who went on to win the tournament.
Seaman v Macedonia 2002 Seaman was again caught out by a set-piece, this time an Artim Sakiri corner in the Euro 2004 qualifying match against Macedonia. The game ended 2-2 and was the last time Seaman played for England.
David James v Austria 2004 England were looking comfortable in the World Cup qualifying match until David James's desperate dive over the top of an Andreas Ivanschitz shot. The game finished 2-2.
Paul Robinson v Croatia 2006 Robinson scuffed the ball into the back of his own net while attempting to clear a Gary Neville back-pass. England lost the Euro 2008 qualifier 2-0.
Scott Carson v Croatia 2007 Carson was making his competitive debut for England in this Euro 2008 qualifier. A spectacular misjudgement saw Niko Kranjcar's 30-yard shot slip through his hands and sent England out of the competition. Steve McClaren was sacked the next day.Reuse content