When Bradley Grobler put the ball on the penalty spot and stepped back before turning to face Robert Green yesterday he cannot failed to have realised that this was a moment in his career that he would never experience again.
It was a chance to claim a place in history as the most unlikely goalscorer against the England national team and even the din of the thousands of vuvuzelas – the plastic horns beloved of South African football fans – seemed to quieten in deference to this extraordinary moment.
Grobler, the unremarkable centre-forward for an unremarkable South African Premiership club, had an opportunity to score against the world-famous multi-millionaires of Fabio Capello's team. Had it gone in, it might have earned him a walk-on part in a television commercial. At the very least he would have been the answer to a pub quiz question for time immemorial.
So it was a pity that Grobler shanked his penalty high over Green's bar. He will just have to live with the memory of what might have been although his team did not disgrace themselves when asked to take on the elite of English football in England's final warm-up game before the World Cup finals. In fact at times in the first half, the Platinum Stars looked like the better team.
When Jermain Defoe scored in the third minute it looked like the local team might find themselves on the end of a pasting but they did not panic, kept their shape and kept England out until the 65th minute when Joe Cole added a second from Wayne Rooney's pass. The third from Rooney came with just seven minutes to go.
Few sides have reduced Fabio Capello to such apoplectic rage on the touchline as the Platinum Stars, managed by the charismatic manager Steve Komphela who was sporting a rakish velvet jacket in contrast to Capello's Umbro tracksuit. Before the game, the Football Association officials were eager to stress that this was nothing more than a training exercise but the Platinum Stars' resilience changed that.
England fielded two separate XIs, the first of which was given the hairdryer at half-time by Capello who promptly left the dressing room to go out to the pitch to tell the second XI exactly where they had gone wrong. It is rare for a defender of the stature of Ashley Cole to have the ball slipped through his legs – a "shibobo", as they call it in South Africa – but that feat was accomplished by the nippy little winger Joseph Molongoane.
Molongoane was the pick of a team who were desperate to seize their chance to impress before they seized their chance to get the shirts of the England players at the end. Only the defender Mbulelo Mabizela, formerly of Tottenham Hotspur, had played at this level. Muzio Mashaba won the penalty when Glen Johnson tripped him.
Defoe scored the first when Steven Gerrard cut the ball back to him after a good pass from Shaun Wright-Phillips. Joe Cole – the only Englishman to play 90 minutes – scored the second and Rooney bagged the third from James Milner's cross. But the Stars certainly shone even if Grobler missed his chance to make history.
Milner provides rare bright spot in disappointing tale of two halves
Let's not get too carried away. The prerogative for England's players was to get themselves tuned up for Saturday's game. But even so some of this was pretty awful, watch-through-your-fingers stuff. Fabio Capello's angry reaction said it all really. Not enough energy and inventiveness from big players like Steven Gerrard. Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch were wasteful in front of goal.
The worry is that if England are this flat-footed in the tournament itself then they could find themselves passed around by better teams in the knockout stages. Providing they get that far. Having worked so hard to get through qualification it would be a real pity for players and management if they blew up now. Just have to believe it will be all right on the night.
In the second half the better performances, especially from the likes of Joe Cole and James Milner meant that England at last stretched their opposition. They created more chances although it should be said that the Platinum Stars made fewer changes at the beginning of the second half so did not have the freshness of the England players introduced at the break.
Stephen Warnock was shaky at left-back and there was a credible penalty shout against him in the 66th minute when he tripped his man in the box. Wayne Rooney's temper was on the brink again and for a while we were approaching those levels not seen since he lost it against Spain at the Bernabeu in 2004. So important for England that he is at the top of his game without being too hyped up.Reuse content