Around a country basking in a heatwave, it was as if someone had thrown water on the coals of hundreds of thousands of barbecues.
The recriminations are certain to continue for days if not weeks, and Fabio Capello in particular will feel a different heat from that which shimmered over the tarmac of England's empty motorways yesterday afternoon. Some, not least Capello himself, will doubtless attempt to deflect a little of the blame towards the stuffed blazers who run world football and who have consistently resisted the introduction of video technology which would have overruled the Uruguayan referee and linesman when between them they denied England, then 2-1 down, a priceless equaliser. In ruling that Frank Lampard's shot had not crossed the line after bouncing down from the crossbar, senor Larrionda and his assistant can only have been auditioning for a SpecSavers commercial. Indeed, within moments of the final whistle, bookmakers were offering 10-1 that they will soon be signed up.
Nevertheless, nobody is more culpable for this devastating defeat than Capello and his players. With his floundering team in need of three goals, the manager's tactical masterstroke was to withdraw Jermain Defoe – who had scored the vital goal against Slovenia that at least avoided an even greater embarrassment, of failing to qualify for the competition's knockout stage – and sent on the Aston Villa striker Emile Heskey, who has scored seven times in 62 internationals. As a last throw of the dice, the 64-year-old Italian might as well have aimed his shakers down an empty manhole.
Still, there is only so much any manager can do from the touchline. On the Bloemfontein pitch, the defence especially might as well have been marshalled by John Cleese as John Terry, so farcical was their performance at times. In the crowd, the usual array of fans dressed as medieval knights and RAF airmen must have felt sillier and sillier in their costumes, especially the latter. Even dressed up as a joke, anti-German jingoism has never looked so unfunny.Reuse content