When the draw for the World Cup was made in December, the nation's best-selling newspaper assembled the initial letters of each country's name in Group C, substituting "Yanks" for the "United States" and coming up with the headline "EASY".
The Sun had a point. Algeria, Slovenia and the US should have provided papier mache resistance. And yet in the depths of Green Point Stadium, England's footballers in their suits designed by Savile Row tailor Timothy Everest realised they had a mountain to climb just to qualify.
Depending on who you talked to, there were a number of explanations. John Terry's view was straightforward. There was nothing wrong with this team that a victory over Slovenia wouldn't cure. "Nothing should change," he said. "We shouldn't be changing the way we play and we shouldn't be worried about other sides because, from what I've seen, the other teams don't worry me at all. Argentina look the best but everyone hyped on about Germany and they've just been turned over."
His Chelsea team-mate, Frank Lampard, was bewildered. You would have to go back to a goalless draw with Morocco in Mexico in 1986 – when Bryan Robson suffered a dislocated shoulder and Ray Wilkins was sent off – to find a performance as insipid as the one against Algeria.
"This is as low as you can feel about a World Cup match," Lampard said. "It is not as low as it could be because we can still go through. Credit to Algeria but we should beat Algeria if we are on our game. If you say that we have to beat Slovenia to go through, you still fancy England, but we cannot perform like we did."
David James, who had been informed by Fabio Capello five minutes before England left their hotel that he would be keeping goal, was more measured. "That is pretty much what we can expect on Wednesday," he said. "What has happened should open our eyes. Offensively, it was frustrating because Algeria had done their homework. Wayne Rooney was forced into positions he didn't want to be and we are going to get this from Slovenia."
If so, they will have to alter their tactics in Port Elizabeth. The Glasgow Rangers defender, Madjid Bougherra, said Algeria had no trouble dealing with England's ponderous thrusts through the middle. "And then they tried crosses and long balls," he said. "But we have plenty of big guys in defence so it was easy for us."
If the booing on the final whistle from the England fans had enraged an impotent Rooney, the response of the Liverpool contingent was more measured. Jamie Carragher thought the supporters were "perfectly entitled" to show their anger and Steven Gerrard said: "They pay good money to come here and we need to produce more for them. We were not aggressive enough, we didn't show enough urgency. I am very surprised by the result because I thought we'd got the cobwebs out of our system in the first game. There is a lot of pressure on the guys; there is no lying about that because we want to be in this tournament for a long time and it's the last chance now."Reuse content