The friendly no-one wanted turned into the best of its kind since the new Wembley was opened in 2007 - and ended with gleeful Ghana racing to their fans in jubilation following Asamoah Gyan's last-minute leveller.
It was a goal the visitors deserved for their attacking approach and their willingness to play properly, rather than stroke the ball around in half-hearted manner as so often typifies these games.
Their supporters deserved it too. Twenty-thousand strong and making enough noise to match, even marking Danny Welbeck's England debut with deafening boos given he has rejected the chance to play for them.
But it spoiled Andy Carroll's night.
Twenty-four hours after being told to curb his drinking by Fabio Capello, Carroll should have been toasting his first England goal.
A Geordie who plays for Liverpool and wears the England number nine shirt has a pretty formidable legacy to live up to.
And what a start he has made thanks to a pinpoint first-time finish to a well crafted move.
But Ghana were not to be denied, which just made the accepted truth that has grown around England's World Cup campaign even more of a myth.
Aside from the goal that never was in that fateful last-16 tie with Germany, the moment that shaped the Three Lions' time in South Africa actually occurred in a game they did not feature in.
Up until Landon Donovan's stoppage-time strike for the United States against Algeria, England were set for a meeting with Ghana and a direct route through to the semi-finals such was the perceived ease of the draw.
That view underestimated Ghana's abilities somewhat, as they eventually proved.
Despite keeping the same formation that served him so well against Wales, Capello discovered stand-in skipper Gareth Barry did not have as much success in keeping Ghana at arm's length as Scott Parker had done at the Millennium Stadium.
Gyan tested Joe Hart with a thunderous 40-yard drive, then got behind Phil Jagielka but failed to beat the England keeper from rather closer.
Hart nearly gifted the visitors a goal when he presented the ball to Gyan on the edge of the area with a misdirected clearance, only to save himself embarrassment by barring the Sunderland striker's route to goal until reinforcements arrived.
He deserved that bit of fortune, though, having already turned away Dominic Adiyiah's goal-bound header with a splendid one-handed reaction save that required agility as well as skill on the basis Hart had been moving in the wrong direction as Sulley Muntari's far-post free-kick arrived.
Yet England were far from outplayed.
Despite the pre-match moans about players not here, those who were largely excelled.
Ashley Young in particular has enjoyed an excellent year as an England player, even if he will not want to watch any replays of the moment he slid forward to reach James Milner's low cross but turned it onto the bar even though the goal was gaping.
Stewart Downing started that move, part of a man-of-the-match display, and the Aston Villa man should have scored himself in the opening minutes when he raced onto Milner's through ball, only to screw his shot badly wide.
Young's fiercely struck effort fizzed over the bar too in those breathless opening stages.
Indeed, as the first half drew to its conclusion, the only English offensive player who had not impressed was Carroll.
Much is expected of the young man with the £35million price tag even though it was only his second international appearance.
But he struggled to get himself in the right place at the right time, moving towards the far post when he should have been at the near and dropping back for a pass when the requirement was to go forward.
As it has always been with strikers, though, the currency by which they are judged is the number of times they find the net.
So, when Young clipped an excellent pass to the edge of the area and Downing's attempt to control succeeded in prodding it straight into his path, Carroll seized on the opening and found the bottom corner with deadly accuracy.
And, as Carroll did little after the break of note until he was replaced by Jermain Defoe just before the hour, that was it.
He left the field to a standing ovation, though - his job done, the aura around him beginning to grow.
The entertainment continued - Young's curling shot just wide at one end, Barry's brave block to a John Pantsil effort at the other, Jonathan Mensah sending a free header from the corner disappointingly wide, a fingertip save from Richard Kingson to deny James Milner, Gyan thrashing a shot into the side-netting.
England were within touching distance of victory when Gyan slalomed through their defence and equalised.
After missing the penalty that would have given Africa its first World Cup semi-finalists nine months ago, no-one can begrudge him that.Reuse content